by James M. Wall
Barack Obama’s maternal grandparents, Stanley Armour Dunham and Madelyn Dunham, celebrated with Obama (photo above) when he graduated from high school in Hawaii.
Obama often speaks of his Kansas background. He traces those family roots to his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who was raised in Augusta, Kan. Her husband, Stanley, died in 1992 and is buried in Hawaii. He was a veteran of World War II.
Madelyn Dunham, now 85, was released from a hospital late last week and returned to her home in Honolulu. Her health condition is described as “very serious.”
Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, died of ovarian cancer at age 53. He has described her death as the worst experience of his life.
“The biggest mistake I made was not being at my mother’s bedside when she died. She was in Hawaii in a hospital, and we didn’t know how fast it was going to take, and I didn’t get there in time,” Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2004.
When news arrived of his Grandmother’s serious condition, campaign officials announced that Obama would cancel his appearances at campaign events Thursday afternoon and Friday. He plans to fly to Hawaii immediately after a hastily-scheduled campaign Indianapolis rally Thursday morning.
He will remain with his grandmother before flying back to continue campaigning Saturday. His wife Michelle will appear at some campaign events during his absence.
As the Illinois Democrat recounted in his memoirs, Dunham, his maternal grandmother, acted in many ways as a surrogate parent. A BBC profile of Dunham reports that Barack’s high school years were spent in Hawaii under the watchful eye of his grandparents:
She and her late husband Stanley raised the young Barack in Hawaii for many years while his mother, who had remarried, lived abroad.
Known within the family as “Toot”, a shortened form of the Hawaiian word “tutu” meaning grandmother, she gave him a stable home and the traditional American values brought from her own Midwestern childhood.
She was also a trailblazer in her own right, having risen from a lowly position to be one of the first women vice-presidents of the Bank of Hawaii.
In a major speech on race he gave in March, Mr Obama described her as “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”.
An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll announced Wednesday morning, gave Obama a ten point lead over John McCain, with 12 days left before Election Day. Some supporters expressed concern that Obama’s momentum might be slowed by his two day absence from campaigning.
A similar criticism was raised in August when Obama traveled to Hawaii, during which time he and his family made frequent visits to see his grandmother. The candidate explained:
“I am going to see my grandma, who I haven’t seen in almost 18, 19 months, and who’s getting to the age that I want to make sure I am spending time with her on a consistent basis and so she can see her great-grandchildren.”
Photo above is from the Chicago Tribune, courtesy of the Obama campaign.