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Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s Mother, Dies at 86

Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s mother and a pillar of the Obama family who moved into the White House and provided stability for her two granddaughters as the young family adjusted to Washington, died Friday in Chicago. She was 86 years old.

His death was announced in a statement by Mrs. Obama, former President Barack Obama and other family members. This did not provide a cause.

Raised on the South Side of Chicago, Ms. Robinson was known as a down-to-earth matriarch who became emotional ballast for her daughter and granddaughters, Malia and Sasha, but also for Mr. Obama.

When Mr. Obama became the first black man to win the presidency in November 2008, he attended the election alongside his mother-in-law. Their hands were clasped as they watched their family’s future change.

But Mrs. Robinson remained much the same. “Just show me how to work the washing machine and everything will be fine,” she said after moving into the White House, the Obamas recalled in their statement.

Ms. Robinson was never comfortable with the trappings of the White House and much preferred dining on a TV set in her third-floor suite. “The only guest she insisted on asking to meet was the pope,” the family said.

Besides Mrs. Obama, her survivors include Mrs. Robinson’s son, Craig, and her six grandchildren. Her husband, Fraser Robinson III, died in 1991.

Ms. Robinson’s move to Washington in January 2009 was initially considered temporary, to help her daughter and granddaughters adjust. At the time, she was hesitant to commit to life in a White House bubble, but even in resisting, she revealed the determination and sense of humor she had tried to instill in her children .

“At the end of the day, I’ll do anything,” she told reporters at the time. “I might worry a little, but I’ll be there.”

Ms. Robinson resided in her White House suite for most of President Obama’s eight years in office. She continued the tasks she began during Obama’s first presidential campaign, including enforcing her granddaughters’ bedtimes, running their baths and making sure they got to school on time. She eventually adapted, attending events at the Kennedy Center, hosting friends from Chicago and occasionally hiring a babysitter to watch the girls.

“The girls needed her,” the family’s statement said. “And she ended up being our rock through all of this.”

For her daughter, she had been a supportive role model. In her memoir, “Becoming,” Mrs. Obama wrote that she had wanted to be both a career woman and a “perfect” mother, as hers had been.

“I had so much: an education, healthy self-esteem, a deep arsenal of ambition,” she wrote. “And I had the wisdom to thank my mother, in particular, for instilling it in me.”

Marian Lois Shields Robinson was born July 29, 1937 in Chicago. His father, Purnell Shields, had left Alabama for Chicago in the 1920s to escape the Jim Crow South. Her mother, Rebecca Jumper, was a caregiver. As a young woman, Marian “fell quickly and madly in love with Fraser Robinson, a fellow South Sider with the strength of a boxer and the cool of a jazz lover,” the family said.

The Robinsons married in 1960. Craig Robinson was born in 1962 and Michelle followed in 1964.

The Robinsons raised their children in a second-floor apartment on Euclid Avenue on the South Side, where they interacted with a rotating group of extended family members, including a great-aunt who taught piano and lived in the first floor apartment.

Mrs. Obama said her mother and other family members, including her older brother, shielded her from much of the civil rights protests that shook Chicago and much of the country in the late Instead, she says, she grew up listening to the tinkling of piano keys coming from downstairs.

When Mrs. Obama was in elementary school, Mrs. Robinson asked that her daughter be moved to a third-grade class for the gifted, an act of advocacy that Mrs. Obama said helped change her life.

As the Robinson children grew into adults, they said, she offered support whether Craig “decided to leave a lucrative job in finance to pursue his dream of coaching basketball” or “when Michelle married a guy crazy enough to go into politics.”

Ms. Robinson was alongside her daughter and granddaughters when they ran upstairs to see the White House residence for the first time, after Mr. Obama won the November 2008 election.

Anita McBride, former chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush, said Bush’s daughters, Barbara and Jenna, invited the Obama family to tour what would be their new home.

Ms. McBride recalled in an interview that Ms. Robinson remained silent when the White House chief usher greeted the family. But if she was nervous, she didn’t let it show.

“She followed her daughter and granddaughters on this adventure,” Ms. McBride said. “It reminds us that, as noble as it may seem and as unattainable as it may seem, anyone can live there and have a family life and a family home there.”

Michael Levenson reports contributed.

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