Sol Samuel was a superstar on the soccer field and in the hearts of those who knew him.
“On the soccer field, every one said he was a ‘beast’ ” said his mother, author Melissa Fay Greene. “Your day was ruined if he was the defender.”
Fisseha Mengistie was born in Jima, Ethiopia. As a boy he worked as a shepherd until he was sent to live with his grandmother. She was soon unable to care for him and took him to an orphanage in the city.
Known to many as “Sol,” he was adopted by his American family at age 10. He was one of nine children in the Samuel family.
“Fisseha,” the Ethiopian word for “happiness,” reflected his personality.
Greene says the first afternoon the family spent with him, they found out he was incredible. “He could play anything; even beat us at board games, made up games and beat us at those,” she said. “He was legendary in our family.”
A 2013 graduate of Druid Hills High school, he was a sophomore at Georgia Gwinnett College and played varsity soccer.
The talented athlete often helped coach a soccer team of players from backgrounds that included abuse.
Samuel competed in the international Maccabi Games in San Diego, Houston, Omaha and Israel.
Off the field, Samuel enjoyed photography and had navigational, camping and wilderness skills. He hoped to have a career someday in forestry and conservation.
“He was very gifted. We never got lost; he would always lead us out,” said Greene.
Fisseha “Sol” Samuel of Atlanta died Oct. 9. He was 20. A graveside funeral service was held Oct. 12 at Crest Lawn Memorial Park. Dressler Jewish Funeral Care was in charge of arrangements.
More than 600 mourners attended his service, an indication of how many his life and bright smile had touched.
His mother said that at his high school homecoming parade his old soccer team had a float with his soccer number on it.
“From the moment this tiny adorable mysterious boy from the Horn of east Africa flew into our lives we were all so wonderfully enriched,” said his brother Lee Samuel during his eulogy.
The soft-spoken and generous Samuel was excited about his upcoming 21st birthday in January.
In 2007 the Samuel family visited Ethiopia and had a reunion with Fisseha’s extended family. “They were happy to see him, and so proud of him” said Greene.
Samuel often spoke of visiting Ethiopia next summer.
“He was at the beginning of his life, not the end,” said Greene. “He was a gem.”
In addition to his mother and brother Samuel is survived by father Don Samuel; siblings Molly, Seth, Lily, Daniel, Jesse, Helen and Yosef; and extended family in Ethiopia.