Madelyn Dunham, 86; Guided a Young Obama

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's grandmother died of cancer, he said in a statement on Monday, a little more than a week after Obama interrupted the White House race to say goodbye to her in Hawaii. Video by AP
From News Services and Staff Reports
Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Madelyn Dunham, 86, grandmother of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, whose personality and bearing shaped much of his life, died of cancer Nov. 2 at her home in Honolulu, on the eve of an election in which her grandson was the leading presidential candidate.

"She was the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength and humility," Obama said in a statement released by his campaign.

Obama flew to Hawaii for two days in the final stretch of the campaign to be with the woman he called "Toot," short for "tutu," the Hawaiian word for grandmother. He has credited his maternal grandmother with his success in life, saying she "poured everything she had into me."

Madelyn Lee Payne was born in Peru, Kan., and raised in nearby Augusta in a strict Methodist home. She married Stanley Dunham in 1940, a few weeks before she graduated from high school.

They moved to Seattle, and during World War II she worked on a bomber assembly line. Her husband, a furniture salesman, moved his family to Hawaii, where their daughter, Ann, met Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr., in 1960 when he was a graduate student from Kenya.

Madelyn Dunham took a job at the Bank of Hawaii to help with the costs of Obama's unexpected birth in 1961, according to Obama's first book, "Dreams From My Father." Although Mrs. Dunham lacked a college degree, she rose through the ranks to become one of the bank's first female vice presidents.

Obama lived with his grandparents off and on during his childhood and all through his high school years.

Stanley Dunham died in 1992. Their daughter, Stanley Ann -- Obama's mother -- who spent many years in Indonesia pursuing a doctorate degree in anthropology, died of ovarian cancer at 53 in 1995. Obama's father, a Kenyan named Barack Hussein Obama Sr., died in 1982.

Mrs. Dunham, who also had osteoporosis, was too sick to travel and see her grandson on the presidential campaign trail. She rarely granted media interviews but enjoyed watching Obama on television, according to Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng.

Until her death, she lived in the same Honolulu apartment building where she and her husband helped raise Obama. The fact that she always rented, even though she worked in her bank's mortgage lending department, was a family joke.

Her fear of an aggressive panhandler, who was black, hit the teenage Obama "like a fist in my stomach," he later wrote.

But when he addressed race in a speech in March during a controversy over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he said, "I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother -- a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world."

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