Monday, November 03, 2008

Madelyn Dunham, 1922-2008

Madelyn Dunham, the grandmother of Barack Obama, died of cancer between 4 and 5 a.m. Eastern time at her home in Honolulu, the day before the polls open for the 2008 presidential election.

The Barack Obama presidential campaign issued a statement under his name and that of his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng:
It is with great sadness that we announce that our grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, has died peacefully after a battle with cancer. 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.

Our family wants to thank all of those who sent flowers, cards, well-wishes, and prayers during this difficult time. It brought our grandmother and us great comfort. Our grandmother was a private woman, and we will respect her wish for a small private ceremony to be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, we ask that you make a donation to any worthy organization in search of a cure for cancer.
The woman Obama called "Toot" helped raise him during his childhood in Hawaii, and was a strong feminist in 1970's Honolulu, managed to become one of Bank of Hawaii's first female vice presidents, despite facing both sexism and racial discrimination.
Obama and Soetoro-Ng lived with their grandparents Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, and later with their mother, Ann Dunham, in 1970s Honolulu, where white people were routinely the target of discrimination.

Sam Slom, a Bank of Hawaii economist then, who is now a Republican state senator in Hawaii, recalls that as a part of the white — or "haole" — minority in Hawaii, he would regularly see housing ads that made no effort to hide racial preferences. He says he remembers ads that read, "No haoles" or "AJAs (Americans of Japanese ancestry) Only" or "No Japanese."

"That's the way it was," Slom said. "Did people talk about race? We had local jokes … like that 'pake' (Chinese) guy or the 'yobo' (Korean) who did this or that. I certainly got my share of haole jokes."
Her health had been declining for some time, and Senator Obama had suspended his campaign two weeks ago to fly back to Hawaii to be with her.

Whether this will have any effect on the campaign has yet to be determined, but it may be a critical loss of focus in the final hours before the election.

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