Barack Obama made no secret of the reason for his 36-hour dash to Honolulu when only ten days remained before decision day in the presidential race. His beloved grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, was gravely ill and he was afraid she might not make it through to the campaign finish.
A television script-writer might have hesitated before capping this sub-plot to the Obama odyssey this way, however. Stricken with cancer, the 86-year-old former bank executive slipped away just hours before America is to decide whether to put the man she helped to raise into the White House.
The candidate was campaigning yesterday morning in Jacksonville, Florida, when aides gave him the news of his grandmother's passing. He and his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who still lives in Hawaii and campaigned for him there during the primaries, issued a joint statement shortly afterwards.
"It is with great sadness that we announce that our grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, has died peacefully after a battle with cancer," they said. "She was the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength, and humility. She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances. She was proud."
Described by those who knew her as a humble woman with a no-nonsense streak that she imparted to her grandson, Ms Dunham was a quiet pioneer of women's rights, becoming one of two first-ever female vice presidents of the Bank of Hawaii in 1970.
A native of Kansas, she married Stanley Dunham in secret before leaving high school. Mr Dunham, a furniture salesman, moved his wife and their daughter, Stanley Ann Dunham, to Hawaii in the late 1950s. (Stanley Ann because he had wanted a boy.) It was in Honolulu that Stanley Ann met Barack Obama Sr, a Kenyan student with whom she was briefly married.
It was the grandparents, however, who stepped in to look after the couple's child, young Barack, after his father left Stanley Ann. She later married an Indonesian man and moved to Jakarta. For much of that time, however, her son remained at school in Hawaii in the home of his grandparents.
"She's the one who taught me about hard work," Mr Obama said in a tribute to his grandmother while accepting the presidential nomination. "She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me."