Obama's Inspiration, His Grandmother, Dies at 86

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Obama For America / Getty

Barack Obama sits with his grandparents Stanley and Madelyn Dunham in New York City in the 1980s

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

Madelyn Payne Dunham, Senator Barack Obama's maternal grandmother, died in Honolulu early this morning. She was 86 and had been suffering from cancer. Dunham helped raise the Democratic presidential nominee and frequently was cited in his speeches as an inspiration. Two weeks ago Obama took a day off from his campaign to visit the ailing woman he called Toot — a form of Tutu, which means "grandparent" in Hawaiian.

Dunham died between 3 and 4 a.m. Hawaii time, with Obama's half sister Maya Soetoro-Ng at her side. Media outlets reported that Obama learned of the death shortly after 8 a.m. today in Jacksonville, Fla.

A statement released this afternoon by Obama and Soetoro-Ng said, "She was the cornerstone of our family and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength and humility. 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."

"It's very, very sad, because we all hoped that she would be able to sustain her strength through Election Day itself," said Hawaii Democratic Representative Neil Abercrombie, a family friend. "She passed away confident that he would succeed ... His strength, his calm demeanor that characterized him in these last weeks and last days — this quiet strength that come across so clearly — that comes from his grandmother; there's no question about that. It's her great legacy."

Obama may be the man of the hour, or of the year, but his biography is defined by the women in his family. Ann Dunham was the "mother from Kansas" who married the man from Kenya. Michelle Williams Obama, the candidate's wife, has become an important, increasingly warming voice on the campaign stump. His daughters Malia and Sasha stole the show the opening night of the Democratic National Convention.

(See pictures of Barack Obama's family tree.)

(See pictures of Barack Obama's campaign behind the scenes.)

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