Michael Purpura is a deputy White House counsel who is part of the team defending President Donald Trump in the impeachment trial in the Senate. Purpura joined the White House staff around the same time as Pat Cipollone in late 2018.
Purpura and his wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Somerville, relocated from Honolulu to the Washington, D.C. area when he accepted the White House job. Mrs. Purpura grew up in Hawaii and the couple appear to have been back-and-forth between Hawaii and the east coast over the past two decades.
Here’s what you need to know about Betsy Somerville Purpura.
1. Betsy Somerville Was a Tennis Star Growing Up in Hawaii
Betsy Somerville Purpura spent her childhood in Hawaii. She and her three siblings all became involved with tennis thanks to their parents’ love of the sport. Her mother, Hattie, played competitively for most of her life and was a tennis professional in Kauai. Her father, John Somerville, played at the collegiate level.
Hattie Somerville passed away in 2015 at the age of 81. In a memorial for her that was published in The Garden Island, United States Tennis Association Hawaii executive director Ron Romano explained that the Somerville children all played from a young age. “Every member of the family has been involved in some way with tennis. The kids were always top players in the state as juniors and adult players.”
Betsy showed a special talent for tennis from an early age. She won her first title at age 11 and continued to accumulate victories after that. According to the USTA, she won three state championships in high school, was ranked the #1 junior player in Hawaii, and was ranked nationally as a teenager.
2. Betsy Somerville Purpura Was the Top-Ranked Player at the University of Arizona Before Competing Professionally
Betsy Somerville Purpura left her home in Hawaii to attend college on the mainland. She was the top-ranked tennis player at the University of Arizona. She qualified for the NCAA championships all four years in both singles and doubles, according to the USTA.
Purpura was named an All-American in 1988 and also served as a team captain for two years. She graduated from Arizona in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in communications.
After completing college, Purpura decided to go professional. According to one of her coaching bios, Purpura competed at the sport’s most high-profile tournaments, including Wimbledon, the French Open, the Australian Open and the U.S. Open.
Purpura had greater success in doubles as a professional player. Her pro bio on the Women’s Tennis Association website shows that she was ranked #128 in the world as a doubles player in July of 1991. She won 35 professional matches in doubles but never secured a championship title. By comparison, Purpura’s best ranking as a singles player was #528 and her record included 13 wins and 15 losses.
In 2011, Purpura was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame.
3. Purpura & Her Mother Won National Tennis Tournaments Together & Were Ranked #1 In the Senior Mother-Daughter Category
Betsy Somerville Purpura played on the professional tennis circuit for two years before taking a step back. But she continued to play at a very competitive level, including alongside her mother Hattie.
Betsy and Hattie won three doubles titles together at the National Senior Mother and Daughter Grass Court Championship. They won the tournament in 2001, 2003, and 2006. In their last win, Hattie would have been about 71 years old at the time. According to the USPTA, the mother-daughter due was ranked #1 in the nation in their doubles category in 2002.
Purpura described her mother as a “gracious competitor” in a memorial published after her death. “She was always complimenting her opponent on a good shot, but at the same time she had incredible focus. That’s what won her a lot of matches.”
4. Betsy Purpura’s Coaching Career Has Included Stints at the Collegiate Level
In addition to her competitive streak on the tennis court, Betsy Purpura has dedicated much of her time to coaching the sport she loves. In her home state, she served as the assistant women’s coach at the University of Hawaii. She later worked as the head coach of the women’s team at Seton Hall University in New Jersey in the early 2000s.
More recently, Purpura has coached at the high school level in her home state. According to her LinkedIn profile, Purpura coached the varsity girl’s team at the Punahou School in Honolulu for three seasons beginning in 2015. She was also a tennis instructor at the Oahu Club from 2009 until 2017.
5. Mike Purpura & Betsy Somerville May Have Met While They Were Both Students at NYC Schools
Betsy Somerville may have met her husband, Mike Purpura, while they were both post-graduate students. While he was a law student at Columbia, she was working toward an advanced business degree from Fordham University. She earned her MBA in 1997.
The Purpuras have traveled between Hawaii and the east coast of the U.S. over the past two decades. The moves appear to have been motivated by Purpura’s legal career. Between 1997 and 2004, he worked as a judicial clerk and later became an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York.
In 2004, Purpura transferred to the District of Hawaii. But the family was back on the mainland after just one year when Purpura accepted a job in the Department of Justice, before becoming an Associate Counsel to the President during the second Bush administration. According to his LinkedIn page, the Purpuras moved back to Hawaii again in early 2009.