Sentimental Journey: Obama's Bond with His Grandmother

  • Share
  • Read Later
Obama for America / AP

Barack Obama with his grandparents Stanley and Madelyn Dunham in New York City, where Obama attended Columbia University. The Senator is canceling nearly all of his campaign events to fly to Hawaii to visit Madelyn Dunham, 86, who is suddenly ill

"She poured everything she had into me." — Barack Obama

Barack Obama has said that his biggest mistake was not being at his mother's side when she died of cancer in Hawaii in 1995 at the age of 52. His first book, Dreams from My Father, had come out only four months before, and he was starting his first campaign, for the Illinois state senate. Her death came quickly, and he didn't make it back in time.

So it makes sense that now he would do things differently. Just two weeks before Election Day, Obama has decided to leave his campaign to be by his grandmother's side in Honolulu for two days later this week. Madelyn Dunham, 86, is gravely ill, although the campaign has not released details about her condition. Dunham is Obama's last living parental figure, and by his own accounts, she played as big a role in his upbringing as his mother did.

(See photos of Obama's extended family here.)

In fact, since Dunham has declined to do interviews since the campaign began, most of what we know about her is from Obama himself, who referenced her in two of the most important speeches of his career.

On March 18 in Philadelphia, Obama attempted to defend his relationship with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, by talking about another complicated relationship: "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, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."

Then this summer, Obama talked about his grandmother again when he accepted his party's nomination in Denver. "She's the one who taught me about hard work. She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she's watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well."

Click here for photos of Barack Obama's Family Tree

  1. Previous
  2. 1
  3. 2