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Celebrating the legacy of Marian Robinson

Honoring the legacy of our “First Mother-in-Law”

An image of Michelle Obama embracing her mother Marian Robinson. Both women have a medium deep complexion and straight dark hair that hits their shoulders. They are both wearing white.

By Valerie Jarrett

On May 31, the Obama family and our whole community mourned the loss of Marian Robinson, Michelle’s remarkable mother.

“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. 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.” – Statement from the Obama Family on Mrs. Robinson’s passing

Above all else, my mother gave me nonstop, unconditional love in so many ways. She fostered in me a deep sense of confidence in who I was and who I could be by teaching me how to think for myself, how to use my own voice, and how to understand my own worth. I simply wouldn’t be who I am today without her.”

Michelle Obama
A daughter, mother, and grandmother of the South Side

The fourth of seven children, Marian was born to a father who worked as a house painter and carpenter and a mother who worked as a nursing aide. She spent most of her life in her beloved city of Chicago, where she met her husband Fraser and raised their children. She moved to the White House when her son-in-law Barack was elected, not because she wanted the spotlight (she would describe living in the White House as “sleeping in a museum”), but because her family needed her. She loved her family and was committed to making the presidential residence a home for her granddaughters.

An image of Michelle Obama, Marian Robinson, and Craig Robinson from the 1970s. Michelle Obama is a child: she has a bow in her hair. Marian Robinson is younger: she is wearing a white shirt with flowers on it. Craig Robinson is a young boy: he is smiling and looking away from the camera.
An image of Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama, and Craig Robinson sitting on a couch. The picture was photographed in the 1970s. Marian Robinson is sitting on a brown sofa and Michelle Obama is sitting in her lap. Craig Robinson is sitting on the couch beside them. They are all smiling into the camera.
Mrs. Robinson: “First Mother-in-Law”

From day one, Marian was invaluable to the Obama family, and all of us, in the White House. She helped create a sense of normalcy for Malia and Sasha, providing a steady presence when their parents traveled or performed their duties as President and First Lady. During those eight years, she was also a critical source of support for Michelle, who referred to her as “my rock.” 

It was important to Michelle and Barack that they raise their daughters with the core values that reflected their own hope and optimism for the world, and that would not have been possible without Marian. Her presence came with, as the Obamas shared, a deep groundedness and an essential wisdom. With one or two brief words, you could count on her to offer important, hard-earned truths. She always did so with a level of grace and good humor that defines her legacy.  

There’s no doubt that, in some ways, moving to Washington was a sacrifice for her. She loved Chicago and her friends back home, but to her, there was no higher calling than to lend that quiet strength to her daughter, her son-in-law, and her granddaughters. I truly don't know how the First Family would have managed without her.

An image of Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama, Sasha Obama, Malia Obama, and Prince Harry sitting in a room in the White House. The room has white walls and antique pictures hanging on the walls. Marian Robinson is sitting in the center: she is wearing a gray plaid dress, a black blazer, and holding a cup of tea. She has medium deep skin and dark hair that sits on her shoulders. To Marian Robinson's right are Michelle Obama and Prince Harry. Michelle Obama has a medium deep skin tone, dark wavy hair that falls past her shoulders, and is wearing a dress with a floral pattern on it. Prince Harry has a pale complexion and red hair. He is wearing a dark blue suit. To the left of Marian Robinson are Sasha Obama and Maliah Obama. Maliah has light deep complexion and long wavy black hair that falls past her shoulders. She is wearing a white striped dress. Sasha Obama has a medium deep skin complexion and has dark hair tied into a bun on the top of her head. She is wearing light blue dress. All of the people in the picture are smiling.
An image of the Obama Family waving to a crowd outside during a winter event. They are all wearing coats and scarves. The family includes: Marian Robinson, Sasha Obama, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Malia Obama
Honoring Mrs. Robinson’s legacy

Marian Robinson was a remarkable woman, and I’m so fortunate to have known her for over 30 years. Her memory will live on in the Obama Presidential Center. The exhibit “Opening the White House” will be named in her honor – a space where visitors will discover the many ways she was a part of making the White House an active place of inclusion, innovation, and culture. It will reflect so many of the values that Marian instilled in Michelle Obama: community, family, bringing people in, and making them feel like their lives mattered.

Mrs. Obama's special Mother’s Day message honoring Marian Robinson

What an incredible life. What a blessing to have known her.

I will miss Marian dearly. But even as we mourn her loss, we will also celebrate her extraordinary life and draw inspiration from her example. You can read President and Mrs. Obama’s statement honoring Marian’s life here (Opens in a new tab).

The image is of the back of the Obamas waving to a crowd from the balcony of the White House in the day time. Mrs. Robinson is standing behind the family off to the right side.

In memoriam donation

In lieu of flowers and cards, President and Mrs. Obama welcome you to consider making a gift to the Obama Foundation to inspire the next generation of leaders and help us carry on Marian’s legacy through our work.

Ways to give
An illustration of four people with a range of light to deep skin tones lifting one another up on top of a paper plane. The background is pink.

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