Barack Obama’s step-grandmother Sarah Ogwel Onyango Obama has passed away at the age of 99.
On Monday, Sarah’s daughter shared the heartbreaking news that her mother died at a hospital in the city of Kisumu in Kenya. A family spokesperson clarified that Sarah — the third wife of Barack’s paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama — had been sick for a week but did not die of COVID-19.
Shortly after the news went viral, Barack paid tribute to Sarah, who he knew as “Dani” or “Granny.”
While posting a beautiful photo of him and Sarah on Instagram, the former U.S. president said his step-grandmother “had no formal schooling” and was “married off to a much older man while only a teen.”
“She would spend the rest of her life in the tiny village of Alego, in a small home built of mud and thatch brick and without electricity or indoor plumbing. There she raised eight children, tended to her goats and chickens, grew an assortment of crops, and took what the family didn’t use to sell at the local open-air market,” he wrote.
Although she wasn’t his birth mother, Sarah raised Barack’s late father, Barack Obama Sr., “as her own.”
“It was in part thanks to her love and encouragement that he was able to defy the odds and do well enough in school to get a scholarship to attend an American university,” he wrote, concluding, “We will miss her dearly, but celebrate with gratitude her long and remarkable life.”
In a statement, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta remembered Sarah as “a strong, virtuous woman” who did outstanding philanthropic work in her Nyang'oma Kogelo home in Siaya County.
“The passing away of Mama Sarah is a big blow to our nation. We’ve lost a strong, virtuous woman. A matriarch who held together the Obama family and was an icon of family values,” Kenyatta said. “She was a loving and celebrated philanthropist who graciously shared the little she had with the less fortunate in her community.”
According to TMZ, Sarah was passionate about raising money to educate girls and orphans in Kenya, and created a foundation that fed and educated children who lost their parents.
Barack referred to Sarah as “Granny” in his 1995 memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” and gave her a mention her during his 2014 speech at the U.N. General Assembly.
She will be missed.