The woman who helped raise former President Barack Obama’s father has died at the age of 99.
According to reports, Obama’s step-grandmother Sarah Onyango Obama died on Monday in Kenya.
“A strong, virtuous woman”
Considered the “matriarch” of the 44th president’s extended family, she was either the second or third wife of his grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama. Reports indicate she died at a hospital in Kenya’s third-largest city, Kisumu.
Sarah Obama was born in a rural area of the country and never received a formal education. She rose to international prominence after her grandson’s political rise to the White House in the 2008 presidential election.
“The passing away of Mama Sarah is a big blow to our nation,” he said. “We’ve lost a strong, virtuous woman. A matriarch who held together the Obama family and was an icon of family values.”
For his part, the former U.S. president shared a message memorializing his grandmother — including a photo of the two when he visited her in Kenya.
“Thanks to her love and encouragement”
Affirming that he would miss her “dearly,” Barack Obama wrote: “Although not his birth mother, Granny would raise my father as her own, and it was in part thanks to her love and encouragement that he was able to defy the odds and do well enough in school to get a scholarship to attend an American university.”
Some members of his extended family in Kenya have claimed that he disassociated himself from them after his rise to political prominence and power. During his second term in office, his half-brother claimed he had not spoken to his grandmother in “years” despite her assertion in 2014 that the then-president was “central” to her life.
In his statement, Barack Obama described the deceased nonagenarian as “strong, proud, hard-working, unimpressed with conventional marks of status and full of common sense and good humor,” affirming that she remained the same during her nearly century-long life.
“She would live to fly on jets, receive visitors from around the world, and see one of her grandsons get elected to the United States presidency,” he wrote.
Nevertheless, he noted that a few things never changed, namely “her essential spirit.” Whatever one might think of her grandson’s politics, she certainly led a remarkable life.