Sen. Barack Obama's grandmother, the woman he called "Toot" and who helped raised him, died just before the presidential election in her apartment in Honolulu.
Aides said Obama was in his hotel room Monday morning in Jacksonville, Fla., doing brief interviews with radio stations in battleground states, when he learned Madelyn Dunham had died after a long battle with cancer.
He was described as stoic upon hearing that she had passed and told aides he was grateful that he had a chance to say goodbye in person when he recently suspended his campaign for two days to return to Hawaii.
Dunham, 86, was a rock of stability as Obama was growing up, giving him the American roots that would ground his teenage years as well as his career in politics.
Obama's campaign said she died Monday between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Chicago time.
The candidate and his campaign had hoped that Dunham would live long enough to see the outcome of the election, a race she had followed closely by television.
Speaking after news of his grandmother's death had been made public, Obama said Monday that the evening marked a "bittersweet" moment for him.
"She has gone home," he said. "She died peacefully in her sleep with my sister at her side, and so there is great joy, as well as tears."
In a rare 2004 interview with the Tribune, Dunham, who called her grandson "Bear," said she and her husband offered their grandson a greater sense of normality. "I suppose I provided stability in his life," she said.
"She was the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength, and humility," Obama and his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, said in a statement released by his campaign. "She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances."
The Obama family thanked those who had sent flowers, gifts and prayers.
"It brought our grandmother and us great comfort," the statement said. "Our grandmother was a private woman, and we will respect her wish for a small private ceremony to be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, we ask that you make a donation to any worthy organization in search of a cure for cancer."