HONOLULU (AP) – Barack Obama told millions watching him accept the Democratic nomination in Denver that his grandmother’s influence on who he is and the way he views the world was substantial.
“She’s the one who taught me about hard work,” he said in August. “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. She poured everything she had into me.”
On Monday, it was tributes that were pouring in for Madelyn Payne Dunham, who died from cancer only a few days before seeing her grandson become the nation’s first black president. She was 86.
“She’s gone home,” Obama said as tens of thousands of rowdy supporters at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte grew silent in an evening drizzle. “And she died peacefully in her sleep with my sister at her side. And so there is great joy as well as tears.”
Those who knew Dunham described her as a calm, assured and directed woman who was instrumental in shaping Obama. He lived with her and his grandfather in their modest two-bedroom apartment from 1971 until 1979, the same apartment where she died late Sunday.
The family is planning a small, private ceremony.
Dunham’s vote by absentee ballot will still be counted, Hawaii elections chief Kevin Cronin said Tuesday. His office received her ballot last week, cast as absentee because of her declining health.
Cronin said that under state law, the absentee ballot of someone who dies before Election Day could be discarded only be if a certification of death is received from the state Department of Health before the election.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) said in an interview that Dunham “died as she lived. She was a woman of strength, great character, a solid anchor in that family.”
Dunham, who took university classes but never earned a degree, nonetheless rose from a secretarial job at the Bank of Hawaii to become one of the state’s first female bank vice presidents.
“Every morning, she woke up at 5 a.m. and changed from the frowsy muumuus she wore around the apartment into a tailored suit and high-heeled pumps,” Obama wrote in his memoir “Dreams from My Father.”
He has often mentioned “Toot”, his version of the Hawaiian word “tutu,” or grandparent, as an example of a strong woman succeeding through intelligence and determination. Many of his speeches describe her working on a bomber assembly line during World War II.
The Kansas-born Dunham and her husband, Stanley, raised their grandson for several years in Honolulu while their daughter and her second husband lived overseas.
Obama learned of Dunham’s death while he was campaigning in Jacksonville, Fla.
“So many of us were hoping and praying that his grandmother would have the opportunity to witness her grandson become our next president,” Hawaii state Rep. Marcus Oshiro, an Obama supporter, said. “What a bittersweet victory it (is) for him.”
At the Honolulu Senior Citizens Club on Monday, three of Dunham’s fellow bridge players lamented her passing. “She was a lovely lady,” said Alice Young, 84, who last saw Dunham about two years ago.