Kate Belcher Webster, passed away on Friday February 24th, 2017 in Seattle after a short illness. In her life, she was a daughter, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, wife, leader, servant, advocate, and philanthropist. Hers was a life well lived.
Kate Helena Belcher was born in New York City on April 2, 1924 to Dr. Harold Stewart Belcher and Dr. Anne Seligman Belcher. She developed an insatiable curiosity and a love of exploration as a small girl, while holding her father’s hand discovering the nooks and crannies of New York City. That curiosity would later fuel a love of travel that took her to over 70 countries in her lifetime.
A child of the Depression, she watched her mother and father run their medical practices in New York while still finding the time to dedicate service to those who couldn’t afford it. That would plant a seed for a lifetime of volunteering, from the War times, to her 32 years of service on the Seattle Children’s Board, and the other nearly 30 community, education, healthcare, and religious organizations on whose boards she sat.
As a small child, she and her younger sister, Suzie, would often be locked in Gramercy Park with other neighborhood children for hours on end. Kate loved that playtime and reported that despite being left on their own, “there were never any fights!” It was perhaps here that Kate first honed her skill in negotiation and ability to work with all kinds of people. This would serve her well later in life, as the first female member of the Seafirst Bank Board, as a key leader in the affiliation of the Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington Medical School, or as she led the committee that hired Ruth Simmons as the first African-American president of an Ivy League College.
Her deep belief in the importance of education started at the Friends Seminary, where she learned to read and write (though having skipped Kindergarten, she frequently mentioned that she “never learned to cut and paste”). She would go on to the Brearley School and Smith College, where she was active in student government. Here, Kate perfected her understanding of civics and community. This gave her the foundation for her deep desire to know about civic issues and, as a post-war bride in her new home of Seattle, she was inspired to co-found Seattle City Club with her beloved friends, “The Old Girls”.
Her childhood summers were spent at her Grandparent’s house, Lo-An-Oak, in Far Hills, New Jersey, surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins. On weekends, the Belcher family would gather for family dinner, enjoying great food, rich discourse, song, and laughter. She was forever committed to family as a result of those foundational years, and would go on to transfer that commitment to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Faith was also a central component of the days at her grandmother’s farm. A lifelong Episcopalian, Kate was a dedicated servant to the church and when the opportunity presented itself, Kate was integral to the creation of Grace Church on Bainbridge Island.
After finishing at Smith College, she moved to San Francisco and shortly thereafter met Holt Webster, at the Portland wedding of Kate’s college roommate, Candy, to Kate’s cousin, Chil. Holt was living in Seattle at the time and Kate was living in San Francisco, but they embarked on a long-distance courtship that lasted four months (only six dates in total), until they were engaged. Kate was a dedicated wife and mother as Holt worked tirelessly to build his company, Pacific Air Freight, where he eventually took on the role of CEO of the larger Airborne Express.
She and Holt built an incredible family together. Their home on Newton Street on Capitol Hill was a gathering spot for neighborhood Christmas parties and childhood hijinks. There, they raised their three children, Kelly, Craig, and Anne. In 1952, they bought a small red farmhouse on Bainbridge Island’s Port Madison, where they would spend summers entertaining friends and family, riding horses, swimming, and playing tennis. After much cajoling from Holt, Kate eventually acquiesced to selling the Capitol Hill home and moving full time to a newly constructed home in 1972. Kate called the home Sunnybranch, named after the first New Jersey farm that her grandparents owned at the turn of the 20th Century in Far Hills, New Jersey. Sunnybranch on Bainbridge Island would be home to numerous events, weddings, parties, and fundraisers.
While balancing an extraordinary public life, she continued to be dedicated to the well-being of her family and earned her role as the matriarch of the family. She was woven into the fabric of their lives and will be deeply missed.
She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband, Holt and son Craig. She is survived by her sister Suzanne Bunzel, daughters Kelly Webster and Anne (Jon) Fox, her grandchildren Alex (Jinny) Scribner, Sarah (Jim) Hopper, Jennifer Scribner, Peter Webster, and Ben and Katherine Fox. She also leaves the great-grandchildren whom she dearly loved, Nicolas, Oscar, Chase, Stella, and MaryKate. And she leaves behind her caregivers, Ted Avery and Susie Oens whom she also dearly loved.
A celebration of her life will be held on March 19th at 2PM at Grace Church on Bainbridge Island. A reception will follow at Sunnybranch.
Gifts in her memory can be made to one of Kate’s beloved charities, or one that you love. She would have loved hearing your passion for it.