Bisrat Belay of Bellevue, Washington, passed away peacefully at her home surrounded by her husband and sons, Christmas Eve, December 24, 2022.
Mrs. Belay, a member of a pioneering group of women of her generation, was a model of humility and kindness for many who knew her. Born and raised in the Geza Kenisha neighborhood of Asmara, Eritrea, with her grandmother Mrs. Elizabeth Tewoldemedhin, Bisrat attended the Geza Kenisha School for her elementary education. After winning the Eritrean Governor’s (“Enderassie”) Prize upon completing eighth grade, she attended the highly selective Haile Selassie Secondary School in Asmara - at the time, one of only two girls in the entire school and the only girl in her entering class of thirty-eight students.
Following high school, she joined an up-and-coming Ethiopian Airlines along with eight other members of the 1962 flight attendant class that flew the airline’s early route network on propeller aircraft such as Douglas DC-3s, Convair 240s, Douglas DC-6s, and later, new Boeing 720B and Boeing 707 jetliners within Ethiopia as well as Africa, Asia, and Europe. She regaled in telling her family stories of her flights to new destinations; charter flights to Jerusalem and to off-beaten path destinations such as the Dallol Depression; and discoveries of historical places, museums, and cinemas with her flight attendant colleagues, and now lifetime friends, on flights to Athens, Rome, and Madrid.
Bisrat Belay was quick to excel on her job and was soon being assigned on the airline’s VIP flights for Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. Among her several VIP flights, one that had a special place in her heart was a flight to Washington, D.C. - her first to the United States - where she was the youngest member of the cabin crew on the Emperor’s flight to Washington for the funeral of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Later, she would return many times to the US to see her children complete their education and eventually settle in the Seattle area with her family.
Another routine but fateful flight was one to Frankfurt that was almost delayed because of a missing passenger. She eventually found the passenger, a fellow airline employee, seated in the cockpit, apparently at the invitation of the captain. As she told it, the passenger, Assefa Ambaye, not only spent the rest of the flight with her but also asked when she was flying back to Addis. They returned together, with a spark of friendship and love that lasted over sixty years and a marriage of fifty-eight years.
Bisrat and Assefa started their family in 1965 and built their home on the outskirts of Addis, then a virtual prairie by the airport, in what is now the sprawling Bole district. As Assefa’s career moved him to different parts of the world, Bisrat was the family’s anchor that kept far-flung family members across the globe connected at their homes in Addis in the 1960s and 1970s; Sana, Yemen in the late 1970s; Geneva, Switzerland in the 1980s and 1990s; and finally, in Bellevue for the last twenty-three years.
An accomplished family chronicler and storyteller, Mrs. Belay loved keeping in touch and visiting friends and family, wrote detailed notes on genealogy, and instilled her love of tradition in her children. Her collection of books include old bibles in Italian and Tigrinya, books on Evangelical Lutheran pioneers of Eritrea which include several of her grandparents and ancestral family, and a rare book of prayers translated from Swedish to Tigrinya by her great-grandmother, Mrs. Ametu Zeratsion.
Since her childhood days, and wherever she lived, Mrs. Belay has been a devoted member of her church: at Geza Kenisha; the Mekane Yesus Evangelical Lutheran Church in Addis Ababa; the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva (Place du Bourg-de-Four); and finally, the Eritrean Evangelical Lutheran Church of North America (Seattle).
Bisrat Belay was predeceased by her father Belay, an employee of the Municipality of Asmara and her mother, Shewhat, a nurse-midwife who worked in health clinics in Asmara and Mendefera, Eritrea. Bisrat is survived by her husband, Assefa; her son Brook of Bellevue, WA; and her son Samuel as well as her beloved grandson Isaac of Geneva, Switzerland.
The family of Mrs. Bisrat Belay will be sitting in “Hazen” at church from 3:00PM-8:00PM on the following days:
Thursday, December 29, 2022 from 3:00PM-8:00PM
Friday, December 30, 2022 from 3:00PM-8:00PM
Lamb of God Lutheran Church
12509 27th AVE NE
Seattle, WA 98125