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

Barack and Michelle Obama announced Robinson's passing in a statement.

ByMary Bruce and Ivan Pereira and Eric Horng ABCNews logo
Saturday, June 1, 2024
Marian Robinson, mother of Michelle Obama, passes away at 86
Marian Robinson, mother of Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama's mother-in-law, passed away on Friday at the age of 86, according to the family.

CHICAGO -- Marian Robinson, former President Barack Obama's mother-in-law, died on Friday at the age of 86, according to the family.

Robinson was a fixture in the Obama White House and resided there during his tenure to help watch over the first couple's daughters, Sasha and Malia.

Michelle Obama said in a post on X that her mother "was the same steady backstop for our entire family."

"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," the family said in a statement.

Born and raised in the South Side of Chicago, Marian Lois Shields would go on to study teaching before getting a job as a secretary. She married Fraiser Robinson in 1960 and the couple had two children, a son Craig in 1962 and a daughter Michelle in 1964. They raised the two children in a small apartment on Euclid Avenue.

Michelle Obama and Robinson talked about their strong bond growing up during an interview on "Good Morning America" with Robin Roberts in 2022.

"Way back, you would have a little kitchen table... folks would come over...and you had with your children. PB and J, wasn't it, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?"

"That one's her. The rest of us didn't have PB and J, she just refused to eat anything else for breakfast," Robinson joked.

"Okay, alright, don't tell them all my secrets," Michelle Obama responded.

The family said that Robinson was very encouraging to her daughter when she "married a guy crazy enough to go into politics."

"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," the family said.

When the Obamas moved into the White House, Robinson agreed to move in after "a healthy nudge," to help raise the first couple's girls.

"'Just show me how to work the washing machine and I'm good,' she'd say," the family said.

The family noted that Robinson tended to prefer to stay upstairs and not hobnob with the guests that frequented the White House, with one exception: Pope Francis.

"Over those eight years, she made great friends with the ushers and butlers, the folks who make the White House a home. She'd often sneak outside the gates to buy greeting cards at CVS, and sometimes another customer might recognize her. 'You look like Michelle's mother,' they'd say. She'd smile and reply, 'Oh, I get that a lot,'" the family said.

Robinson returned to Chicago after Obama's second term ended and remained active in the family's life.

Three weeks ago Michelle Obama posted a photo of her and her mother on her Instagram page celebrating Mother's Day.

Robinson's love and legacy extended well beyond her family.

"We're very proud to be able to say that we were loved by her... and consider her family," family friend Pam Gore told ABC7 Chicago.

Nikki and Pam Gore grew up in South Shore on Chicago's South Side with Michelle Obama and her brother Craig, and they said they will always remember Marian's kitchen table wisdom.

"I hear her laughter, and I hear whenever I need to hear that mother advice, that motherly advice, I hear Marian," Nikki Gore said.

Under the white hot spotlight of politics and the presidency, the Obamas said Marian was their "refuge from the storm."

"100% of who Michelle is, is because of Marian, because Marian was so grounded," Nikki said.

In 2022, Robinson spoke with the ABC7 Chicago I-Team's Samantha Chatman about parenthood and her children.

"I am proud of them, but I'm proud of what's important to them," Robinson said in the interview. "But I just think loving children is the most important thing, no matter who they are, no matter what they do."

Robinson's pearls of wisdom remain with Nikki and Pam Gore.

"When I make decisions in life... I always think of mom, my mom and Mrs. Robinson," Pam said.

The cause of Robinson's death was not immediately revealed.

Robinson was survived by her children, her son and daughter-in-law and six grandchildren.

"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," the Obama family said in a statement.

ABC7 Chicago contributed to this report.