Sarah Ogwel Onyango Obama, the matriarch of the Obama family and step-grandmother to former United States President Barack Obama, passed away Monday (March 29) of a brief illness. The elder Obama, who the family affectionately referred to as “Mama Sarah” was 99 years old.
“The passing away of Mama Sarah is a big blow to our nation. We’ve lost a strong, virtuous woman. A matriarch who held together the Obama family and was an icon of family values,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement.
Barack shared a tribute to his step-grandmother on Twitter.
“My family and I are mourning the loss of our beloved grandmother, Sarah Ogwel Onyango Obama, affectionately known to many as “Mama Sarah” but known to us as “Dani” or Granny,” he wrote. “We will miss her dearly, but we’ll celebrate with gratitude her long and remarkable life.”
Mama Sarah was the second wife of Barack’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, and helped raise his father, Barack Sr. During her well-lived life, she raised money to educate girls and orphans in Kenya and had a foundation which fed and educated children who lost their parents.
When her grandson was elected President of the United States in 2008, she didn’t own a television. He did come back to Kenya in 2015 when he was President and in 2018, after he had left office. In his 2006 book, Dreams Of My Father, Barack wrote glowingly about “Mama Sarah,” raising her profile in America and even more after he visited her in 2006, two years before he made history as the first Black president of the United States.
Her daughter Auma shared a touching tribute on Twitter.
“Just lost the most important person in my life – my gran, Mama Sarah,” Auma Obama wrote. “My heart is broken! But as I write, not able to stop the tears from pouring, I know I was blessed to have her for so long! My inspiration, my rock, my comfort zone, my safe space. Rest in peace Dani!”
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