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Former first lady Michelle Obama, left, and her mother Marian Robinson react as Ret. Navy Admiral John B. Nathman speaks to delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 6, 2012. Robinson, who moved with the first family to the White House when son-in-law Barack Obama was elected president, has died, according to an announcement by Michelle Obama and other family members Friday, May 31, 2024. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Published: 03 June 2024

 Marian Robinson, mother to former First Lady Michelle Obama, died on Friday, May 31, at 86. Her loved ones said she leaves behind a void in the hearts of many. As a steadfast figure in the Obama White House, Robinson’s presence extended far beyond familial ties, touching the lives of all who knew her.

Marian Lois Shields set out on a journey that was characterized by fortitude and compassion after emerging from the vibrant tapestry of Chicago’s South Side. From her early days as a teacher to her later role as a trusted secretary, Robinson’s life was a testament to the values of family and service, showcasing her personal achievements and contributions.

In a heartfelt tribute, Michelle Obama fondly recalled her mother’s enduring influence, describing her as the unwavering pillar of their family. Robinson’s wisdom, honed through life’s diverse experiences, was a beacon of light during times of uncertainty. Her steadfast support and gentle nature were not just sources of strength but unique qualities that endeared her to the entire Obama clan.

Throughout Barack Obama’s historic presidency, Marian Robinson was a symbol of stability, offering sage advice and unconditional love. Despite the grandeur of the White House, she maintained her down-to-earth charm, forging deep connections with staff and finding solace in everyday routines, thereby extending her influence beyond her immediate family.

Reflecting on her mother’s legacy, Michelle Obama shared cherished memories of their time, illustrating their profound bond. Robinson’s unwavering presence and nurturing spirit created a sense of home amidst the whirlwind of public life.

“Her wisdom came off as almost innate, as something she was born with, but in reality, it was hard-earned, fashioned by her deep understanding that the world’s roughest edges could always be sanded down with a little grace,” the family said.

Michelle, Barack, Craig, Kelly, Avery, Leslie, Malia, Sasha, Austin, and Aaron joined to pen a heartfelt remembrance of Robinson.

“Our mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother had a way of summing up the truths about life in a word or two, maybe a quick phrase that made everyone around her stop and think,” they wrote. “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Know what’s truly precious. As a parent, you’re not raising babies — you’re raising little people. Don’t worry about whether anybody else likes you. Come home. We’ll always like you here.”

The family recalled that, as a young woman, Robinson studied to become a teacher before working as a secretary. She fell quickly and madly in love with Fraser Robinson, another South Sider with a “boxer’s strength and jazz-lover’s cool.” Together, they raised two children, Craig, and Michelle, in a tiny upstairs apartment on Euclid Avenue in South Shore.

Robinson volunteered for the PTA and taught her children to read at an early age, sitting together as they sounded out words on a page, giving them the strength and confidence to walk to school — and out into the world — all on their own. She once chewed out a police officer who had accused Craig of stealing a bike, demanding that the adult apologize to her son.

On summer nights, she’d pack the family into the car with a steaming plate of chicken for a trip to the drive-in movies. On New Year’s Eve, she’d pass around pigs in a blanket and raise a toast to Auld Lang Syne. And every night, for years on end, she and Fraser would hold court at the dinner table, where they indulged all manner of questioning, teaching their children to believe in the power and worth of their own voices.

“On Election Night in 2008, when the news broke that Barack would soon shoulder the weight of the world, she was there, holding his hand,” the family wrote.  “With a healthy nudge, she agreed to move to the White House with Michelle and Barack. We needed her. The girls needed her. And she ended up being our rock through it all.”

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