Ethiopia plane crash victim, a Sheffield native, was 'bright, shining star'

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SHEFFIELD — In her short life, Samya Stumo's spirit of caring stretched across the world and had already made a big difference.

Those who knew Stumo said her altruistic nature and deep care for humanity drove her into the field of medical anthropology. Her mission was to create equitable and culturally aware health care systems around the world.

But this visionary working to upend the status quo in global health got a very early start, say family.

"She was compassionate from the get-go," said her great-uncle, Ralph Nader, in a phone interview. "She'd be 8 years old and she'd get a pail of hot water and go to her great-grandmother and soak her feet and rub her feet and dry them. She was always that way."

Nader had had dinner with Sheffield native Stumo, 24, the Friday before she died this month in the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 passengers and crew minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The crash came amid a federal investigation into regulatory oversight of the certification of Boeing's 737 Max. The plane was the second model to crash in two months.

Stumo's parents, Michael Stumo and Nadia Milleron, will host a memorial reception Saturday for Stumo at the family farm on Boardman Street, after the family has a private funeral.

Milleron was busy Thursday with the arrangements. But she told two quick stories that reflected on her daughter's early development of a nurturing and mature consciousness.

"She was really aware and competent from a very young age," Milleron said. "When my son was in the hospital for cancer, she would be home and answering phone calls from the hospital — at age 4. They could not believe it."

Her younger brother, Nels, died at age 2. And it was during his illness that Samya taught herself to read.

"I came home and she was sitting with her feet stuck out on the couch because her knees wouldn't bend over the edge," Milleron said. "She was reading 'The Railway Children' and said, 'Look mama, I can read.' "

Milleron had trouble believing it.

"I got the newspaper and put it in front of her and I said, 'Read that.' And she did. I picked her up and danced her around."

In an earlier statement, both parents wrote that Stumo was "a fearless, radiant spirit who inspired others to live brightly and fully," and "cared most about treating all people and patients as human beings, particularly in the context of their culture, family, and individuality."

Such great promise

When the plane crashed, Stumo was headed to Kenya and Uganda as an analyst for the global health organization ThinkWell. She was there to set up local offices for a larger project to make health care more affordable in six countries.

Already accomplished, Stumo was laying tracks for what her former anthropology professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst said would be a life and career that "held such great promise."

"Samya was passionate about transforming systems of global health to make people-centered, high-quality health care a reality for all people around the globe," Tom Leatherman wrote in a statement he sent to The Eagle.

Leatherman also said her enthusiasm for life was contagious.

"She was joyful, kind, spirited, and fearless," he said, adding that she also had strong values inculcated by her family. "Values of personal integrity, independence, social justice, self-respect and respect for others."

Leatherman remembered a vivacious and engaged freshman in Stumo when she was 17, and listed all the various organizations, fellowships and programs she was involved in.

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"She was so excited — anxious to be involved in everything — fun loving, always on the move, always overextended," he wrote.

Stumo's high school principal remembers an "altruistic, cheerful" and ambitious student who was partly home-schooled but took a lot of honors and advanced science classes — classes, he said, that would be hard for many home-schooling parents to deliver.

"She was not here as a conventional student," said Glenn Devoti, principal at Mount Everett Regional High School, also noting that Stumo graduated young, at age 16.

Devoti said Stumo's death has torn up the faculty at the school.

"More than half the faculty taught her," he said. "A lot of tears."

Gail Mullen, who lives on the farm next door to where Stumo grew up, knew the Stumo children since they were babies.

"She really was such a bright, shining star," Mullen said.

Stumo also had received a master's degree in global health from the University of Copenhagen, and went on to work as a consultant for the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, where she worked on a study to monitor viral hepatitis in more than 27 European countries.

Mullen said she found Stumo's accomplishments and "self-containment" unusual for one so young.

"Moving forward in life with that consciousness of bringing a better world, but not in a way that was selfish," she said.

Nader also pointed to Stumo's accelerated consciousness.

"By 24, she had the experience and judgment of someone twice her age," he said. "A perfect combination for her chosen mission."

Nader described this mission of creating alternative public health models that are "community-based for sustainability and for continuity — not this top-down from Geneva or New York or Seattle."

Stumo was a great cook, too, Nader said. "She always had time to be joyous, with tons of friends from around the world."

It is only natural that Nader, the consumer advocate and political activist, should speak of what he called the "Boeing software time bomb." Most of the planes have since been grounded across the world, after reports of other instances of flight-control malfunctions.

Nader described what he said was a stackup of deadly mistakes and shortcuts by the plane manufacturer.

"This is criminal negligence at the least," he said of software-induced flight-control problems reported by pilots.

"Artificial intelligence overpowered human intelligence," he said. "It's the arrogance of algorithms. It's what Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk warned about.

"Beyond the tragedy, it's a harbinger that we have to head off in other technology."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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