Former First Family Mourns a Loss

President Barack Obama is sworn into his second term in office on January 20, 2013, while his family looks on. His mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, is to the right in an orange scarf.

On May 31, Marian Robinson died at the age of 86. Born in Chicago in 1937, Robinson was the mother of Michelle Obama, the former First Lady of the United States.

In early 2009, Robinson moved into the White House with the Obama family, when Barack Obama became President. Robinson helped care for her granddaughters, Malia and Sasha Obama, who were then in elementary school.

After Robinson’s death, Michelle Obama said, “My mom, Marian Robinson, was my rock, always there for whatever I needed. She was the same steady backstop for our entire family, and we are heartbroken to share she passed away.”

Former President Obama also paid tribute to his mother-in-law. “There was and will be only one Marian Robinson,” he said. “In our sadness, we are lifted up by the extraordinary gift of her life. And we will spend the rest of ours trying to live up to her example.”

As a child and young woman, Robinson faced racial discrimination that limited opportunities for Black Americans in education, careers, and housing. But she and her late husband, Fraser C. Robinson III, did what they could to overcome those obstacles. Mrs. Robinson took her children to the library when they were young to teach them to read and write.

Michelle Obama and her older brother, Craig Robinson, a basketball executive, both graduated from Princeton University, one of the top schools in the country. Mrs. Obama went on to earn a law degree at Harvard Law School. It was there that she met her future husband, Barack Obama, who would one day be elected the first Black President of the United States. President Obama served two terms in the White House. 


“The ability to adapt is huge,” Amya told Skye about qualities she looks for in a parent. 


After Mrs. Robinson’s death, I asked young people in my Georgia community what qualities they appreciate in a parent, grandparent, and leader. 

“The ability to adapt is huge,” said Amya W., 17. “Not every kid is the same.”

Alanah T., 14, said that “patience, love, and understanding” are essential. “Patience is very important because it is just understanding no matter the age, we all make mistakes,” Alanah added. “Realizing that you are no better, and you are no more worthy than the child.”

Shiloh T., 14, focused on Mrs. Robinson’s abilities as a leader. “A leader is someone who is conscientious, open-minded, and can make good decisions,” Shiloh said. “Good decision-making is important because leaders need to identify the best possible outcome when problems arise. It allows for better communication and understanding.”

In speaking about the qualities she appreciates the most, educator Patty Mosley expressed many of the same sentiments the Obamas did when honoring Mrs. Robinson.

“The qualities I see in a parent, grandparent and leader,” Mosley said, “are perseverance, authenticity, support, bravery, unconditional love, structure, organization, and tenacity.”



Top photo: © Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert; bottom photo courtesy of the author