HAWAII - Barack Obama's grandmother Madelyn Dunham, whose personality and bearing shaped much of the life of the Democratic presidential contender, has passed away following a battle with cancer.
Obama and his half sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, announced the news in a statement Monday.
"She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances," they said. "She was proud of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and left this world with the knowledge that her impact on all of us was meaningful and enduring. Our debt to her is beyond measure."
Fearing for her health, Obama left the campaign trail to visit the ailing Dunham in Hawaii on October 23rd and 24th. Dunham, who was 86, helped raise the Illinois senator. He praised her as the cornerstone of his family, "a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength, and humility."
The candidate learned of Dunham's death Monday morning while he was campaigning in Jacksonville, Florida. He planned to go ahead with campaign appearances.
Obama said the decision to go to Hawaii was easy to make, telling CBS News that he "got there too late" when his mother died of ovarian cancer in 1995 at 53. He said he wanted to make sure "that I don't make the same mistake twice."
The McCain-Palin campaign offered their condolences in the following statement:
"We offer our deepest condolences to Barack Obama and his family as they grieve the loss of their beloved grandmother. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them as they remember and celebrate the life of someone who had such a profound impact in their lives."
The Kansas-born Dunham and her husband, Stanley, raised their grandson for several years so he could attend school in Honolulu while their daughter and her second husband lived overseas. Her influence on Obama's manner and the way he viewed the world was substantial, the candidate himself told millions watching him accept his party's nomination in Denver in August.
"She's the one who taught me about hard work," he said. "She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me."
Obama's nickname for his grandmother was "Toot," a version of the Hawaiian word for grandmother, tutu. Many of his speeches describe her working on a bomber assembly line during World War II.
Madelyn and Stanley Dunham married in 1940, a few weeks before she graduated from high school. Their daughter, Stanley Ann, was born in 1942. After several moves to and from California, Texas, Washington and Kansas, Stanley Dunham's job landed the family in Hawaii.
It was there that Stanley Ann later met and fell in love with Obama's father, a Kenyan named Barack Hussein Obama Sr. They had met in Russian class at the University of Hawaii. Their son was born in August 1961, but the marriage didn't last long. She later married an Indonesian, Lolo Soetoro, another university student she met in Hawaii.
Obama moved to Indonesia with his mother and stepfather at age 6. But in 1971, her mother sent him back to Hawaii to live with her parents. He stayed with the Dunhams until he graduated from high school in 1979.