Obama Attends Memorial for Grandmother
Updated 8:58 p.m.
By Philip Rucker
HONOLULU -- President-elect Barack Obama and his family joined close friends Tuesday to pay tribute to the woman he called his "rock," the maternal grandmother who provided stability in his young life and made possible his rise to the American presidency.
The Obamas attended a private memorial service for Madelyn Dunham, who lived in a modest apartment here and died of cancer at age 86 on the eve of the presidential election.
The service took place at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, a two-story house converted into a place of worship. It was closed to the media, and Obama's aides said only that the president-elect and his wife, Michelle, his half-sister, Maya Santoro-Ng, and her husband, Konrad, attended the proceedings.
The family and some friends later scattered Dunham's ashes at an ocean overlook called the Lanai Lookout. Fox News reported that it was the same overlook where Obama tossed a lei into the ocean in August in memory of his mother, who died in 1995.
During the campaign, Obama frequently mentioned Dunham, and she helped him campaign by allowing herself to be filmed in Hawaii for a television commercial Obama ran during the Democratic primaries. Obama has highlighted her career advancement despite sexist constraints, beginning with her days in a bomber assembly plant during World War II. She lacked a college degree, yet rose from secretary to become the Bank of Hawaii's first female vice president.
Obama called his grandmother Toot -- short for "tutu," the Hawaiian word for grandparent -- and said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver that "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," Obama said. "She poured everything she had into me."
In October, less than two weeks before the election, Obama left the campaign trail for an emotional visit with his then-ailing grandmother. The candidate appeared sad as he walked near Dunham's apartment -- the same neighborhood where she raised him.
Madelyn Lee Payne was born in Peru, Kan., and raised in a strict Methodist home in nearby Augusta. She married Stanley Dunham in 1940, a few weeks before graduating from high school, and they moved to Seattle and later Hawaii. That is where their daughter, Ann, met Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr., in 1960 when he was a graduate student from Kenya.
Stanley Dunham died in 1992, their daughter died of ovarian cancer in 1995, and Obama's father died in 1982.
A public tribute to Madelyn Dunham was held in November at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific here, where her husband was buried. Neither Barack Obama nor his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, attended the service, which was held by Dunham's coworkers, but both are expected to pay tribute to her on Tuesday.
"Tutu taught us to be mindful and moderate, to be patient when calm was warranted and to act when action was necessary," the siblings wrote in a statement read at Dunham's November memorial. "She liked playing bridge, a good mystery novel, jigsaw puzzles and an annual cruise. She was fiercely loyal and protective of those whom she loved, and had little patience for foolishness."
Posted at 8:32 PM ET on Dec 23, 2008
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