Obama mourns grandmother

Vartabedian is a Times staff writer.

Sen. Barack Obama’s grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, the “tough boss” who raised the future Democratic presidential candidate from the age of 10 and helped shape his ambitions, died at her home in Hawaii late Sunday.

“It is with great sadness that we announce that our grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, has died peacefully after a battle with cancer,” Obama said Monday in a statement with his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng. “She was the cornerstone of our family and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength and humility.”

Dunham, a native of Kansas who turned 86 last week, recently broke her hip. Many reports said she was thought to have cancer, but the Obama campaign had declined to confirm her medical condition until Monday. She seldom ventured out of the modest Honolulu apartment where she and her late husband, Stanley Dunham, raised Obama.

Obama broke off the campaign trail last month and took an emotional 22-hour trip to Hawaii to visit with Dunham, the last time he would see her.

At a campaign stop Monday night, Obama said, “She is gone.” He said she died in her sleep while his sister was at her side. “I am not going to talk about it too long because it is hard to talk about.”


The Dunhams’ daughter, Ann, was Obama’s mother. She was attending college in Hawaii when she met a Kenyan exchange student, Barack Obama Sr., her future husband and Obama’s father.

Obama has often described Madelyn Dunham as the rock of the family, a steady influence on his life when his father returned to Kenya and his mother remarried. After spending four years with his mother and her new husband in Indonesia, Obama came back and lived with the Dunhams until he graduated from high school.

Obama has said that whatever discipline he has, it came from his upbringing by Dunham. In 1970, while working at the Bank of Hawaii, Dunham became among the first wave of women promoted to vice president of a local bank.

In their statement about their grandmother, Obama and Soetoro-Ng said, “She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances. She was proud of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and left this world with the knowledge that her impact on all of us was meaningful and enduring. Our debt to her is beyond measure.”

Obama and his sister said they planned a small, private ceremony at a future date.

Obama’s Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, issued a statement Monday: “We offer our deepest condolences to Barack Obama and his family as they grieve the loss of their beloved grandmother. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them as they remember and celebrate the life of someone who had such a profound impact in their lives.”