The Rev. Ernest Maurice Sewell, a founder of New Solid Rock Fellowship Church and a retired AT&T executive, died of heart failure Feb. 13 at Sinai Hospital. The Reisterstown resident was 79.
The youngest of seven children, he was born in Baltimore and was the son of the Rev. Walter H. Sewell, a Methodist minister who had a Hollins Market produce business, and his wife, Margaret Parker, a homemaker. He credited his second-grade teacher, Norma A. Marshall, the mother of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, with the mathematical skills he would employ throughout his life. He grew up on North Arlington Avenue in the Poppleton neighborhood.
“He developed his entrepreneurial skills with his family’s produce business in the Hollins Market,” said his daughter, Terrye Moore, an Owings Mills resident. “He helped set up the outdoor produce stall in the bed of Hollins Street and at the end of the business day he took it down and carried its boards home in his red wagon.”
She also said, “As a Methodist preacher’s kid, he often played church with his childhood friends, and he was always being given the role of preacher.”
He met his future wife, Brenda Joyce McNair, a fellow student at Frederick Douglass High School, from which he graduated in 1957 as class valedictorian. He was a member of the United Nations Club and the debating society.
“Sparks started to fly after he asked to carry her books as they rode home on the Number 51 bus,” his daughter said.
He was a pioneering member of the 1964 class of the Johns Hopkins University, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. As a student and young father, he lived on Tioga Parkway and walked to his classes on the Homewood campus to conserve his finances.
He later earned a master’s degree in business administration and accounting from Morgan State University, He was also given an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from the Family Bible Institute University and Seminary in Baltimore.
“My father was a black pioneer in corporate America,” said his daughter. “He progressed through the managerial ranks at the old Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. and later at AT&T.”
He worked at the telephone companies from 1964 to 1983. He served as a regional comptroller and testified in accounting cases before the Public Service Commissions in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia.
He was also a pioneering African-American who had an office suite on the executive row at AT&T’s Finance Department’s corporate office in Morristown, N.J.
“My husband was the only black participant in boardroom discussions that affected the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of employees.” said his wife. “He was well received by his supervisors, and bosses were encouraging. They recognized that he was a man of integrity and hard work.”
Among his responsibilities, he worked on the divestiture of AT&T in the 1980s.
After his retirement in 1988, he returned to Baltimore. He and his wife founded and operated the Maranatha Christian Daycare & Learning Center on Liberty Road in Windsor Mill from 1993 to 2009.
“They provided hundreds of children with a strong foundation for later academic success,” said his daughter.
As a young man he was a member of Mt. Zion Methodist Episcopal Church and later New Metropolitan Baptist Church. He was also associated with Concord Baptist Church and Christian Life Church. He later founded the New Solid Rock Fellowship Church on West Northern Parkway in conjunction with his wife.
“He was a dynamic preacher, street evangelist, prayer warrior, wise counselor and Bible study teacher,” said his daughter, who followed her father at his church. “He mentored and inspired several young preachers who later became pastors.”
Survivors include his wife of more than 59 years, Brenda McNair, the retired principal of Hilton Elementary School; three daughters, the Rev. Terrye Moore of Owings Mills, Rhonda Harris of Brookeville and Carla Bluitt of Summerfield, N.C.; a brother, Walter Eugene Sewell of Baltimore; two sisters, Margaret B.Wells and Jessie Thomas, both of Baltimore; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.