An Obama family affair in Denver

Leonard Doyle
Tuesday 26 August 2008 03:00
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Millions of Americans got their first glimpse of the close-knit, but extended family surrounding Barack Obama last night as his wife Michelle took the stage in Denver.

Introducing her to the nation was her older brother Craig Robinson, who worried during their four year courtship that started in 1988 that Michelle was going to dump Barack, such were here exacting standards.

"We were all worried about, ‘Oh, my god my sister's never going to get married because each guy she's meet, she's gonna chew him up, spit him out' he has said, ‘so I was thinking, Barack says one wrong thing and she's going to jettison him."

Now head basketball coach for Oregon State University, Craig was twice Ivy-League player of the year while at Princeton University (where Michelle also attended), but only ever played professionally in Europe.

A few months after Michelle's first date she asked Craig to size up her new beau.

"She said, 'Hey, take him to play a game of basketball and tell me what you think,' " said Robinson, who reported back that he was "extremely confident but not cocky…(with) a good sense of team."

Barack Obama's half sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng a high-school teacher in Hawaii was also on hand to fill out the picture Obama has painted of from a family that includes "brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents."

Maya is the daughter of their mother Ann Dunham and Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian businessman to whom she was briefly married.

Parents

Born in Kansas, Ann Dunham moved to Hawaii to study anthropology. There she met an exchange student from Kenya, Barack Hussein Obama and married him in February 1961. She was 18 when their son, Barack Jnr, was born six months later. But, two years later, Obama Snr left Hawaii, first for Harvard, where he continued his studies, and then to Kenya, where he climbed the ranks of the Kenyan government. (He died in a car accident in Kenya in 1982.) Ann, divorced from Obama Snr in 1964, met Lolo Soetoro from Indonesia. They were married in 1967 and had a daughter, Maya Soetoro, in 1970. Ann died of ovarian cancer in 1995.

Wife and children

Michelle Obama presented her personal view of Barack, her husband and the father of their two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, seven. She met her husband at a Chicago law firm, where she was assigned to be his mentor. "He sounded too good to be true," she has said. Michelle Obama is a high-powered healthcare executive who juggles her career with being a political spouse and mother. She has poise and grace but also a sharp tongue, which could be her downfall – but which is likely to be kept in check at the convention.

Grandparents

Sarah Obama is Barack Obama's grandmother on his Kenyan father's side. She is a member of the Luo tribe who speaks no English and still lives on the shores of Lake Victoria. Mr Obama spent his formative years living with his white maternal grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, in Honolulu. After the war, Mr Dunham's job as a furniture salesman took him to Texas, Washington and back to Kansas,before the couple settled in Hawaii. His wife worked for the Bank of Hawaii, where she eventually became a vice-president. Mrs Dunham, a widow aged 85 – called "Toot" by her grandson – is not in Denver this week.

Siblings

A high school teacher in Hawaii, Maya Soetoro-Ng proved during the February primary season that she has at least some of the political savvy of her half-brother, Barack. She campaigned intensively across the islands and Democrats, perhaps not surprisingly, sided heavily with Mr Obama over Hillary Clinton. Born to Barack's mother, Ann Dunham, after she married her second husband, Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian, she is a Buddhist and remains a vital link for Obama to Hawaii, where he spent most of his childhood and which remains the place he retreats for family holidays. Her husband is Konrad Ng, a Chinese Canadian.

Brother-in-law

Few Americans knew anything about Craig Robinson before he took to the stage in Denver last night to introduce his rather more famous younger sister, Michelle. Like her, he studied at Princeton, though his principal area of accomplishment was basketball. Indeed, Mr Robinson was Ivy League player of the year, twice. Now aged 46 and married with two children, he is the chief basketball coach for Oregon State University. In Portland at least, where Mr Robinson is in his first year coaching the university team, the Beavers, it was Craig they were waiting for last night, more than Michelle.

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