Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s Mother, Dead at 86

Marian Robinson, the mother of former First Lady Michelle Obama, has died at the age of 86.

Robinson’s death was confirmed by the former First Lady on social media Friday. “My mom Marian Robinson was my rock, always there for whatever I needed,” wrote Michelle. “She was the same steady backstop for our entire family, and we are heartbroken to share she passed away today.”

In a separate statement from Barack and Michelle Obama, Craig and Kelly Robinson, and their children, the family remembered Marian, who was a fixture at the White House during Barack’s eight years in office. “Marian Lois Shields 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. “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.”

Robinson moved to Washington, D.C., in 2009 after living her entire life in Chicago to help take care of her granddaughters Malia and Sasha, who were seven and 10 years old at the time. “I felt like this was going to be a very hard life for both of them,” she said in a CBS interview with Gayle King when discussing her daughter and son-in-law following Barack’s first inauguration. “And I was worried about their safety, and I was worried about my grandkids. That’s what got me to move to D.C.”

In a lighthearted moment during the interview, Michelle recalled how Robinson insisted on doing her own laundry at the White House and taught her daughters: “They would go upstairs for laundry lessons.”

“She was the most beloved figure in the White House. She had a stream of people — the butlers, the housekeepers… They would all stop by, Grandma’s room was like the confessional,” said Michelle, adding, “People still visit mom in Chicago.”

Robinson was born on July 29, 1937, in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Purnell Shields and Rebecca Jumper, and one of seven children. She studied to become a teacher before working as a secretary, and as a young woman, “fell quickly and madly in love with Fraser Robinson, another South-Sider with a boxer’s strength and jazz-lover’s cool,” the family said. The couple raised two their two children, Craig and Michelle, in a small upstairs apartment on the South Side’s Euclid Avenue.

She volunteered for the PTA, the family said, 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.”

As her children grew into adults, Robinson was there with “her wholehearted support,” whether it was when “Craig decided to leave a lucrative finance job to pursue his dream of coaching basketball,” or when “Michelle married a guy crazy enough to go into politics, she was just as encouraging.”

“At every step, as our families went down paths none of us could have predicted, she remained our refuge from the storm, keeping our feet on solid ground,” the family wrote. On Election Night in 2008, as the news broke that “Barack would soon shoulder the weight of the world, she was there, holding his hand.”

In their statement, the family said that “as a mother,” Robinson was the family’s “backstop, a calm and nonjudgmental witness to our triumphs and stumbles.” They added, “She was always, always there, welcoming us back home no matter how far we had journeyed, with that deep and abiding love.”

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