Marian Robinson, mother of first lady Michelle Obama, dies at 86

Marian Robinson, a South Chicago housewife who became the first presidential in-law in generations to live in the White House after her daughter, Michelle Obama, became first lady of the United States, died on June 31 May in Chicago. She was 86 years old.

The family announced the death in a statement but did not provide a cause.

Mrs. Robinson, who was often called Mrs. R or the “First Grandmother”, was the daughter of a painter and a stay-at-home mother and herself became a stay-at-home mother at a time when few African American women could not afford to work.

In a small but comfortable home, she raised her daughter, who pursued a career as a lawyer and health care executive before becoming first lady, and her son, Craig Robinson, who grew up to become a basketball coach -college ball. Later, Mrs. Robinson also worked as a bank secretary.

Mrs. Robinson’s husband, Fraser, was a pump attendant at the city of Chicago water treatment plant. He suffered from multiple sclerosis and died in 1991. He had been a precinct captain for the Democratic Party, but his wife had little interest in national politics until his son. right, Barack Obama, ran for the White House in 2008.

On election night, Obama described his mother-in-law as showing unusual emotion as she witnessed his historic election as the first black president of the United States.

“She was actually sitting next to me while we were watching the returns. And she’s like my grandmother, a simple type of person. And suddenly she kind of reached out and she started holding my hand, you know, kind of shaking it,” he said in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” shortly afterward. Barack Obama’s victory over the Republican candidate, Senator. John McCain (Arizona), in November 2008.

“And you had this feeling of, ‘Well, what is she thinking?’ For a black woman growing up in the ’50s, in a segregated Chicago, to see your daughter become the first lady of the United States… I think that feeling existed throughout the country. And it’s not unique to African-Americans.

Mrs. Robinson’s children often described her as a woman who spoke her mind and cherished her privacy. She sought to maintain these characteristics after agreeing to move with her daughter’s family to the White House.

“They’re dragging me with them and I don’t feel very comfortable,” she told an interviewer as she left the house, “but I’m doing exactly what you’re doing.” You do what needs to be done.

The decision attracted widespread attention. Ms. Robinson was the first presidential mother-in-law to live in the White House since Elvira “Minnie” Doud, the mother of Mamie Eisenhower.

Mrs. Robinson’s role was to help her granddaughters Malia and Sasha Obama adjust to life in the Washington bubble and maintain some normalcy.

She would ride to school with the girls in Secret Service SUVs and tuck them in at night when their parents’ schedules prevented them from coming home.

“One of my greatest blessings is watching my granddaughters grow up before my eyes. My job here is the simplest of all: I’m just a grandmother,” Ms. Robinson wrote in a 2012 essay published in Essence magazine.

While living in the White House, Ms. Robinson rarely gave interviews and only appeared publicly with the Obamas on vacations and at certain cultural events, often with her granddaughters present.

“If anyone other than their parents is going to be with these kids,” she once said, “it better be me.”

Marian Lois Shields, one of seven siblings, was born in Chicago on July 30, 1937. After all of their children were born, her parents separated.

Marian studied for two years at a normal school but did not complete the program for financial reasons, her son wrote in his memoir. In her early 20s, she married Fraser Robinson and emphasized the importance of education to her children, both of whom graduated from Ivy League schools.

“She taught us that it’s possible to be open and honest about your own flaws and that doesn’t necessarily mean your children will adopt them,” Michelle Obama once said.

The Robinson family was skeptical when Michelle brought Barack Obama home to introduce him; They met at the Sidley Austin law firm in Chicago and began dating in 1989.

Michelle was focused on her career and showed little interest in settling down. But after their marriage in 1992, the large Chicago-based family welcomed him into their fold. Barack had a few relatives nearby and the Robinsons threw his birthday parties and became the family he celebrated holidays with.

Barack Obama said Ms. Robinson was an unsung hero in his political trajectory. If she hadn’t quit her job to care for her granddaughters, Michelle Obama might not have felt comfortable taking on the necessary travel to support her husband’s presidential campaign.

Ms. Robinson continued to live in the Chicago apartment she and Fraser had shared until she moved to the White House. There, she lived on the third floor – one level above where “Michelle’s family” lived.

Ms. Robinson described herself as being like most grandmothers. She teased her daughter about her strict rules for Malia and Sasha, including watching little TV and going to bed early.

“I heard [Michelle] Say: “Mom, why are you rolling your eyes? You made us do the same thing,'” Ms. Robinson once told the Boston Globe. “I don’t remember it being that bad. It seems like she’s just going too far.

Ms. Robinson described her approach to grandmothering as follows: “I do everything that grandmothers do that they’re not supposed to do. »

“I have candy, they stay up late… they watch TV as long as they want, we’ll play games until the early hours,” she said.

Besides his daughter and son, survivors include six grandchildren.

In addition to her deep involvement with her family, Mrs. Robinson had varied interests. She was in her 50s when she started running and won gold in the 50-meter and 100-meter races at the 1997 Illinois Senior Olympics. She stopped running after an injury.

“If I can’t do it fast, I don’t do it,” she told Oprah Winfrey magazine in 2007. “You don’t run just to run, you run to win.”

She had not traveled abroad before her son-in-law was elected president and seemed to enjoy following the first family’s official foreign visits. When once asked if she was enjoying her life in Washington, Ms. Robinson told Essence, “I really am. you want to know why? Because my children are good parents. It’s very easy to be a grandmother when your children are good parents.

Ms. Robinson built a busy social calendar that included visits to Las Vegas casinos and concerts in Washington. At the same time, his low profile gives him a level of anonymity that allows him to travel without a security guard. If someone recognized her as the president’s mother-in-law, she would often say, “I get that a lot.” »

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