The First Grandma: Who Is Marian Robinson?

Michelle Obama's mother Marian Robinson will play a large role in First Family.

January 21, 2009, 7:26 PM

Jan. 22, 2008 — -- First lady Michelle Obama may be focusing on being mom in chief, but it's her mother, Marian Robinson, who serves as the bedrock for the entire Obama clan.

Robinson, who retired from her job as a bank secretary in 2007 in order to devote more time to her grandaughters, Malia Obama, 10, and Sasha Obama, 7, left her Southside Chicago home to help her daughter and son-in-law make the transition to Washington, D.C.

Her bond with the first family is evident. Throughout the inauguration, Robinson watched closely over Malia and Sasha as a friendly assist to support Michelle and Barack Obama.

Michelle Obama has been vocal about how grateful she is for her mother's aid during the family's move from private to public life.

"My mother jokes. She said, 'You know, when I taught you and your brother to push beyond your comfort zones, I didn't expect you to drag me with you.' She has been terrific," Michelle Obama said in an interview with ABC News' Bob Woodruff last year.

"We couldn't do this without her," she added, "and we are grateful that she's going to be here, helping the girls, helping me get acclimated to the changes that we'll be facing. I can breathe a little bit easier, knowing that if I'm out late or have to travel that the girls have Grandma."

In a 2008 Boston Globe interview, Robinson said she wouldn't have it any other way.

"If somebody's going to be with these kids other than their parents, it better be me," she told the publication.

Robinson grew up as one of 10 siblings in a then-heavily segregated Chicago, who put herself through a correspondence course to become a secretary at a bank.

She married Frazier Robinson and started a family. Her husband, who battled multiple sclerosis most of his adult life, died in 1991.

Robinson enjoys a close relationship with her children, particularly her daughter.

"They didn't have that kind of friction that you hear with mothers and daughters," Craig Robinson said of his mother and sister, who share a striking physical resemblance. "I think my mom and my sister are best friends."

Robinson was eager to instill values into her children.

"The values they taught us were honesty, integrity," Craig Robinson said.

And while neither Marian Robinson nor her husband finished college, they raised their children to achieve great things.

Both of her children attended Princeton, while Craig Robinson went on to earn his MBA and his sister went to Harvard Law School.

The parenting style Robinson used with her children is the same she utilizes with her grandchildren. She pushes free thinking and independence along with a good dose of discipline and love.

Family friends have said Robinson has been a godsend for Michelle Obama, who always wanted to recreate the nurturing atmosphere Robinson created in the working-class home where Michelle grew up.

"My mom's big mantra was making sure that we felt good about ourselves," Craig Robinson said.

It's a lesson she'll likely try to instill in Malia and Sasha, now that she's moved into the White House.

But Robinson won't be the only mother coming in with the new administration. Vice president Joe Biden is bringing his mother to live with him at the Naval Conservatory and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may move her mother to the nation's capitol, too.

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