President-elect Barack Obama spent much of Tuesday honoring the memory of the grandmother who raised him, and then scattering her ashes at Länaçi Lookout on Oahu's rugged southeast coastline, the same spot where Obama scattered the ashes of his mother after her death in 1995.
The White House press corps that¹s traveling with Obama on his third Hawaii visit of the year was not allowed into the First Unitarian Church for a one-hour service in memory of Madelyn Dunham, who died of cancer at the age of 86 just two days before Obama¹s presidential victory.
And media people were not allowed to accompany Obama, his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, her husband, and Obama¹s immediate family of wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia as they picked their way down to Länaçi Lookout and its wave-swept, rocky shoreline Tuesday afternoon.
Obama scattered the ashes of his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, at the same location after she died of cancer at the age of 53. During a family vacation in August, Obama returned to Länaçi Lookout to toss a lei into the ocean in memory of his mother.
While local and national media were kept at a distance Tuesday, Lauray Gouveia of Kaimukï managed to snap several photos of the Obama entourage of about 12 people that visited the lookout for 20 minutes.
Gouveia suffered her own health scare in May when she came down with pneumonia, and Tuesday she sympathized with Obama¹s emotions.
"To lose someone that close, I felt his pain," she said.
Gouveia wanted to be close to Obama and capture his image but would not allow herself to photograph him scattering his grandmother¹s ashes.
"It's too personal," she said. "It's pono. You¹ve got to do the right thing." Although Secret Service and other law enforcement people kept shooing Gouveia away, she persisted.
"I wanted to see someone who's going to help us help ourselves to make some serious changes," she said. "Thinking about it, it's just chicken-skin. Man, does he have a job and a half to do." Dunham and her husband, Stanley Dunham, raised Obama in their two-bedroom, 10th-floor apartment on Beretania Street while his mother traveled and pursued her graduate studies in Indonesia with his sister.
Obama called his grandmother "Toot," after the Hawaiian name for grandparent, tutu. Her husband was "Gramps." The ashes of Stanley Dunham — a sergeant in Gen. George Patton¹s 7th Army in Europe — are inurned in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
Madelyn Dunham was suffering from osteoporosis and cancer when she fell in her apartment and broke her hip in early October.
Within days, Obama's presidential campaign announced his sudden decision to cancel appearances so he could make the long flight home to visit Dunham.
Family friends at the time said Obama did not want to relive his experience in 1995, when he arrived too late to say goodbye to his mother.
He had been raised by both of his maternal grandparents: Stanley — the gregarious and fun-loving pal, who struggled to sell furniture and then insurance on Oçahu; and Madelyn, the stern, no-nonsense banking executive who draped young Barack in equal parts Kansas values and grandmotherly love.
During his campaign for the presidency, Obama¹s grandmother represented the last surviving close adult figure from his childhood, having already lost his mother, father and grandfather.
In his first public comments after Dunham¹s death, Obama told a crowd in Charlotte, that she was a "quiet hero." "Some of you heard that my grandmother who helped raise me passed away early this morning," Obama said to supporters after her death. "She has gone home."
She died peacefully in her sleep, with my sister at her side, and so there¹s great joy as well as tears. I¹m not going to talk about it too long because it¹s hard to talk about. I want everybody to know, though, about her. Her name is Madelyn Dunham. She was born in Kansas in a small town in 1922, which means she lived through the Great Depression, she lived through two world wars.² Obama called Dunham "a very humble person and a very plain-spoken person." She was like other "quiet heroes we have all across America," Obama said.
"They¹re not famous. Their names aren¹t in the newspaper. But each and every day they work hard. They watch out for their families. They sacrifice for their families. ... That's what America¹s about. That's what we¹re fighting for."