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Obituary: Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s mother, dies

  • By Tiffany Wertheimer
  • BBC News

Image source, michelle obama

Legend, Michelle Obama once described her mother as “my rock and my best friend…a guiding light throughout my life.”

Marian Robinson avoided the spotlight and rarely gave interviews – her daughter, Michelle Obama, once described her as a “sweet, witty companion who doesn’t need the limelight.”

But it was this privacy, closely guarded by the Obamas, that afforded Robinson the rare luxury of being able to live relatively freely in the White House and without the usual scrutiny that follows every first family – while still enjoying the perks of being the mother of the president. -place.

Growing up in Chicago, she might never have dreamed that her daughter would one day become the first lady of the United States. On election night, while holding Barack Obama’s hand, she told him, “Well, it’s just a little overwhelming, isn’t it?”

Robinson moved into the White House – albeit reluctantly at first – and played a unique and crucial role. As the affectionately known “first grandmother,” she brought some normalcy to the lives of her granddaughters, Malia and Sasha.

In 2019, Barack Obama said: “I always appreciated his stability, his point of view and the way his jokes reverberate around the room. »

After her death on Friday at the age of 86, the former president paid tribute in a press release to the “extraordinary gift of her life”.

“A deeply segregated Chicago”

Marian Lois Shields was born in 1937 on Chicago’s South Side and grew up in a small house with seven siblings.

She married Fraser Robinson III, a pump operator for the Chicago Water Department, in 1960, and they had two children – Craig in 1962 and Michelle two years later. Robinson worked as a secretary and for a bank before becoming a stay-at-home mother.

Michelle Obama often talks about growing up on the South Side of Chicago, the poorest part of the city with a large African-American population. In the 1960s, Chicago public schools still actively resisted racial integration.

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A proud mother

Marian and Fraser Robinson worked hard to ensure their children could attend some of the best schools in the country. Mr Robinson continued to work full time even after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and the couple took out secret loans to pay for tuition.

“We just wanted our children to understand that a good education was their ticket to a better life, a chance to have more and be more,” Robinson once said.

It paid off: Craig and Michelle both graduated from Ivy League universities.

Video caption, Michelle Obama talks politics, family and the important role her mother played in the White House

On Michelle Obama’s podcast, she talks to her brother about the honest, open discussions they would have with their parents as kids, where nothing was off-limits and no question was too embarrassing to ask.

“She always took us seriously, carefully considering what we had to say and responding with thoughtful questions and plenty of encouragement,” Mrs. Obama said.

This resulted in his brother scoring so well on a sex education test that concerned teachers summoned his parents to the school for a meeting.

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After 31 years of marriage, Fraser Robinson III died in 1991. Marian remained in the family home in Chicago until moving to the White House in 2009.

‘First grandmother’

When that day finally came, Robinson moved into the White House “kicking and screaming,” according to his son.

Having never lived outside of Chicago, she valued her independence and was reluctant to leave her friends, her weekly yoga classes, and the “little house” she had lived in for decades.

“The White House reminds me of a museum, and it’s like sleeping in a museum?” she told People magazine at the time.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Robinson participated in White House Easter and Halloween traditions and often wore fancy dress costumes.

But she quickly adapted and took on the unique role of “first grandmother” to the Obamas’ daughters, Malia and Sasha, then aged 10 and 7.

“My job here is the simplest of all: I’m just a grandmother,” she wrote in Essence Magazine in 2017.

Robinson insisted on doing his own laundry and also taught the girls how to do theirs. She was part of the motorcade that took Malia and Sasha to school, to avoid the trip that involved three cars and at least four armed security guards.

She was the constant in Barack and Michelle Obama’s life of travel, tours and long days, taking the girls on playdates, taking piano lessons and dance lessons.

“When I wasn’t home at the end of the day, Grandma was there,” Michelle said in an interview with CBS’ Gayle King in 2018.

Image source, SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Legend, Marian Robinson shares a moment with her granddaughter Malia during a Christmas special in 2013

In her podcast, Michelle recalls that “sleepovers at grandma’s house were the biggest night of the week, because you brought them food they shouldn’t eat… they slept in your bed, they kicked you out of your bed, I can’t believe it, you let them tear down your house and build forts with your couch.”

Life at the White House

The matriarch quickly learned to adjust to her new life in Washington, D.C. – and made the most of the opportunities – attending dinners and concerts, and going to events at the Kennedy Center where she could sit in the president’s box.

“She has a very busy social life, so much so that sometimes we have to plan our schedule around her schedule,” Michelle Obama said in 2009.

Not as recognizable as his daughter or son-in-law, Robinson was able to live his life quite freely, leaving the White House without security and wandering around the city.

She had a suite on the third floor of the White House – and often announced “I’m coming home” as she went upstairs.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Marian Robinson often joined her family on trips to Camp David, the presidential country retreat.

Robinson joined the first family on several trips abroad, both for vacations and official visits, including accompanying his daughter and granddaughters on an official visit to China without Barack Obama in 2014.

It was a rare glimpse into the close relationship she had with Michelle, Malia and Sasha – and the connection between the four was evident.

Robinson stayed with the sisters while her daughter took center stage and, in a touching mother-daughter moment, grabbed Michelle’s heels when the first lady stopped by the apartments to jump rope with students.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Robinson has joined his family on several official visits, including to China in 2014.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, A trip to China gave the public a rare glimpse into the strong bond between Robinson and his family.

Supportive mother-in-law

Robinson was initially against Barack Obama’s candidacy for president.

“I felt like life was going to be difficult. I was worried about their safety and the girls,” she told Gayle King in 2018.

But little by little, she warmed to the idea and eventually became one of its biggest supporters.

A now-famous photo of the couple on election night quietly holding hands as news broke that he would be the next president embodied the quiet solidarity she had with her family.

Marian Robinson will be remembered by many as the loving, grounded and tenacious matriarch of the White House, who took on a role she did not ask for and who, at first, did not want, with dignity and selflessness, become the foundation of Obama. family.

Over to you, Mrs. Robinson.

Image source, Getty Images

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