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Obama's Grandmother Honored at Tribute Friday

Al Landon, CEO of the Bank of Hawaii where Madelyn Dunham worked, reads a letter from President-elect Barack Obama at a tribute memorial for Obama's grandmother Madelyn Dunham, at Punchbowl Memorial Cemetery in Honolulu, Hawaii Nov. 14, 2008. (Hugh Gentry/Reuters)

By Garance Franke-Ruta
About 200 people turned out Friday in Honolulu for a public tribute to Barack Obama's grandmother Madelyn Dunham, who passed away at the age of 86 on the eve of his election as president.

Neither President-elect Obama nor his sister, Maya Soetero-Ng, attended the event, which was sponsored by the bank where Dunham was a vice president. They contributed a letter that the bank chairman and CEO, Al Landon, read.

"This was not a family memorial or a funeral service. It was a public goodbye tribute hosted by people she worked with in Hawaii," an Obama transition official said of the ceremony, held at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. "There will be a private ceremony for the family at a time to be determined that the Obama family will attend."

Dunham worked for many years at the Bank of Hawaii, rising to become one of the bank's first female vice presidents during an era when women had not yet entered the workforce in droves.

Entertainer Willie K performed at the tribute, and lawmakers and a princess paid their respects, according to Honolulu's KGMB-TV.

"I'm so delighted to be here to show my respect and honor," said Princess Abigail Kawananakoa, KGMB reported.

The man who hired Dunham, Howard Stephenson, told KITV-TV that Dunham was "the salt of the earth. She was a wonderful person to have working for you because she always kept you out of trouble, made the boss look good."

The transition team declined to release the letter that Obama and Soetero-Ng jointly wrote, although parts of it were reported by local media.

The Honolulu Advertiser reported that the siblings wrote, "When Tutu found out that she had little time remaining, she insisted that we dispense with excessive solemnity or sorrow. She was not afraid of any storm and withstood many in her 86 years. We feel fortunate to have had so much time with our Tutu. She spent more time raising us than did most grandmothers and we benefited from her closeness; we are stronger and wiser because of her. ... She was fiercely loyal and protective of those whom she loved and had little patience for foolishness. She motivated us to work harder and to take pride in our work, irrespective of salary or prestige."

Honolulu's KHNL-TV said that the letter also said, "Although one doesn't get to choose how to die, one could determine how to live each day until that time comes. She fought to live well until her very last day. She will be greatly missed."

Obama has made plans to return to Hawaii with his family in December, and is expected to take part in a private memorial at that time.

By Web Politics Editor  |  November 18, 2008; 4:09 PM ET
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I'm very glad the people who live in Hawaii were able to have a real memorial service and not some kind of circus. It is quite a feat to have pulled this off in the middle of the surge of public interest and it was obviously key to do it without Barack and Maya in attendance.

While we as a country won't get to know this woman in person, I think we can all look at this event and the people who attended it to get a sense of what we, sadly, missed. She was obviously a community figure and pioneer in her own right. Aloha, Mrs. Dunham.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | November 19, 2008 8:08 AM | Report abuse

Let there be no doubt, Barack's appearance would have greatly complicated the event, and been used to make it a Media Circus/ Politicized Event.

THAT, is just not Island Style! ;~)

LOL! :-D

Gotta Love that Hawai'ian Formal look!

Posted by: SAINT---The | November 18, 2008 6:38 PM | Report abuse

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