The Australian newspaper industry has lost a legend and friend with the death of David John Ross Sommerlad AM on August 7, 2021.

Mr Sommerlad was revered as an editor, writer, administrator, and educator in the regional press and as a member of the Australian Press Council.

He was born on May 21, 1929, at Roseville, Sydney, one of two sons and two daughters of another great journalist, Ernest Christian Sommerlad, CBC MLC and his wife Mildred. David married Joan Shirley Wilson on May 21, 1955. His brother, E.L. Sommerlad MLC, and son J.W. Sommerlad, were other members of a remarkable newspaper dynasty.

Each of the Sommerlad editors distinguished himself not only as an editor but also as a citizen and champion of their communities.

David Sommerlad’s successful career included daily newspapers in Newcastle, Inverell, and Glen Innes (Australia) and Bradford (England) and he was executive editor of Rural Press Ltd publications in Sydney for six years, before transferring to head the Country Press Australia and New South Wales industry associations.

In the national sphere, he was CPA executive director in 1987 and 1988-98 and president in 1987-88, bringing passion, energy, and expertise to his expansive administrative roles.

When I was president of CPA in 1992-94, David and I were members of a newly formed journalism training committee. Following earlier connections with training programs at Deakin University, Victoria, David became the driving force in developing the Deakin-CPA Post-cadet Journalism Training Courses. We continued our partnership by working with Deakin lecturers, John Hurst and Michael Provis, to produce the Community Journalism Course for graduate and non-graduate cadets in 2000. David’s role extended into supervision of cadet training until 2015 and I continued as committee chairman and tutor.

Journalists spend their working lives reporting the achievements of others and do not expect personal accolades. However, David Sommerlad was rewarded with many prestigious awards for his exceptional citizenship. He was Inverell’s first Citizen of the Year in 1966 and in 1968 was selected by Australian Jaycees as their Outstanding Young Man of the Year. The Hills Shire Council presented an Australia Day award recognising his 30 years of advocacy to turn the Heritage Park in Castle Hill into a protected area. He was a Rotarian for more than 60 years, serving in four clubs with distinction. In 1995 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his newspaper and community service.

His fame as a journalist extended overseas with membership of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors and he was the first Australian to receive the prestigious annual Gene Cervi Award for editorial skills and courage in advocacy. It was a proud occasion for his friend, Barry Wilson, the first Australian president of ISWNE, to chair the presentation of this award at Melbourne University in 2016. As David was ill at the time, I was honoured to accept the Gene Cervi trophy on his behalf.

David Sommerlad was a devoted husband and father who will be sadly missed by family and friends. His lasting legacy is a more resilient and productive regional newspaper industry across the nation. Our sympathy is extended to Joan and family.

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