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Tafari Campbell: Police say nothing suspicious with chef’s drowning as Obama daughters leave island

The Obamas referred to Tafari Campbell as ‘a beloved part of our family’ after his body was recovered from Martha’s Vineyard’s Great Pond on Monday

Andrea Blanco,Io Dodds
Thursday 27 July 2023 13:36 BST
Obama's personal chef brews beer at the White House

Massachusetts Police have said that there is “no evidence” of anything “suspicious” with the drowning death of the Barack Obama’s personal chef Tafari Campbell.

Campbell, 45, tragically died in a paddleboarding accident in the water close to the former president’s home in Martha’s Vineyard on Sunday night.

Police in Edgartown, Massachusetts, confirmed on Monday morning that his body had been recovered from the town’s Great Pond.

Campbell had worked for the Obamas at the White House and then joined the family as their personal chef afterwards. Police said Barack and Michelle Obama were not at home when Campbell died but were on the island.

Their daughters Sasha and Malia were spotted leaving Martha’s Vineyard after the tragedy.

“Tafari was a beloved part of our family,” the Obamas said in a statement on Monday.

“When we first met him, he was a talented sous chef at the White House – creative and passionate about food, and its ability to bring people together.

“In the years that followed, we got to know him as a warm, fun, extraordinarily kind person who made all of our lives a little brighter.

“That’s why, when we were getting ready to leave the White House, we asked Tafari to stay with us, and he generously agreed. He’s been part of our lives ever since, and our hearts are broken that he’s gone.”

In an update on Tuesday, Massachusetts Police said that “he was not wearing a personal flotation device and was not leashed to the paddle board” when he fell into the water.

He was with a fellow paddle boarder – who has not been named – who tried to help but could not reach him in time, police said.

“The other paddleboarder then swam to shore and notified a person on shore of what had happened,” police said.

“That person placed a 911 call to the Dukes County Regional Emergency Communications Center, which initiated an immediate emergency search and rescue response by numerous public safety agencies.”


Dead man named as Obama employee from Virginia

Police have named the paddleboarder as Tafari Campbell, 45, an employee of Mr Obama who was visiting Martha’s Vineyard at the time of his death.

In a statement released just now, the state police said Mr Campbell hailed from Dumfries, Virginia, adding that neither Mr Obama nor his wife Michelle were at home when he died.

Io Dodds24 July 2023 23:02

Obamas mourn ‘a beloved part of our family’

The Obama family have issued a statement mourning Tafari Campbell, according to the The Chicago Sun-Times.

The newspaper identified Campbell as Mr Obama’s personal chef, who had cooked for him at the White House during his time as president and then went on to work for the family afterwards.

“Tafari was a beloved part of our family," the Obamas said. "When we first met him, he was a talented sous chef at the White House — creative and passionate about food, and its ability to bring people together.

"In the years that followed, we got to know him as a warm, fun, extraordinarily kind person who made all of our lives a little brighter.

“That’s why, when we were getting ready to leave the White House, we asked Tafari to stay with us, and he generously agreed. He’s been part of our lives ever since, and our hearts are broken that he’s gone.

"Today we join everyone who knew and loved Tafari — especially his wife Sherise and their twin boys, Xavier and Savin — in grieving the loss of a truly wonderful man.”

Io Dodds24 July 2023 23:18

Pictured: Tafari Campbell at the White House

Here’s a picture of Tafari Campbell during his time as a chef at the White House, courtesy of former Associated Press photographer Ron Edmonds.

White House Chef Tafari Campbell pictured on the South Lawn of the White House in November 2008 (Ron Edmonds/AP)
Io Dodds25 July 2023 00:11

'The first alcohol brewed on White House grounds'

Campbell previously had a brush with public fame in 2012 when he helped brew a series of ales using honey from the beehives set up by Michelle Obama on the White House's South Lawn.

"As far as we know, the White House Honey Brown Ale is the first alcohol brewed or distilled on the White House grounds," said a statement from the then President’s office.

"George Washington brewed beer and distilled whiskey at Mount Vernon, and Thomas Jefferson made wine, but there's no evidence that any beer has been brewed in the White House. Although we do know there was some drinking during prohibition..."

A petition to release the recipe gained around 12,000 signatures, leading the White House to acquiesce.

Io Dodds25 July 2023 00:45

Instagram photos show loving husband proud of his craft

Campbell's Instagram account is that of a man who took great pride in his craft, enjoyed golfing and improving his fitness, and loved his family.

Interspersed between numerous photos of elegantly-presented dishes, from Chinese dumplings to peach-flavoured mini bread puddings, there are numerous snapshots of him with his wife Sherise, who runs a baking and catering firm and whom Campbell frequently described as his "best friend".

One photo showed the young couple's wedding way back in 1999, with the caption "happy 21st anniversary!!!!"

Tafari Campbell with his wife, whose face has been blurred out of respect for her privacy (Tafari Campbell via Instagram)

Others showed them seeing 2018's smash hit film Black Panther, eating at a restaurant, and at the beach on holiday in Aruba.

Some of the food pictures are artfully arranged so that they form one larger photo on Instagram's grid-like feed.

Tafari Campbell marries his wife in 1999. Her face has been blurred out of respect for her identity. (Tafari Campbell via Instagram)
Io Dodds25 July 2023 01:55

Campbell may have only recently learned to swim

Videos and comments on Campbell's Instagram page suggest that he may only have learned to swim, or to swim confidently, in the last five years or so.

Under one holiday snap from October 2017, showing Campbell and his wife Sherise standing chest deep in crystal-blue waters in Aruba, one follower asked: "But can you swim though? Lol."

Campbell responded with a "weary face" emoji, suggesting frustration or lamenting. The Independent has contacted that person for comment.

A pair of videos posted about a year and four months later showed him practicing various swimming strokes over beginner distances, with the hashtags "#Progress" and "#survivalskills".

Io Dodds25 July 2023 02:38

Sherise Campbell says she is 'heartbroken'

Campbell's wife Sherise Campbell, also a professional cook, has reacted to her husband's death with one word: "Heartbroken."

Mrs Campbell posted the brief message on her Instagram page on Monday evening, along with smiling pictures of her husband.

Sherise Campbell posts on Instagram following her husband Tafari’s death (Sherise Campbell via Instagram)
Io Dodds25 July 2023 03:44

A 'spectacular' estate in the playground of America's wealthy

The Obamas’ estate in Martha’s Vineyard was bought in 2020 for a $11.75 million, following years of annual holidays to the coveted island getaway.

According to People magazine, the house itself measures 6,892 sq ft and sits at the heart of 29 acres of land, with seven bedrooms, eight baths, several stone fireplaces, and a boathouse.

LandVest, the luxury real estate firm that handled the sale, describes it as “the perfect family compound “setting for generations to come”, citing its “spacious and dramatic living room”, “private sun deck”, and spectacular water views” of the Great Pond.

Martha's Vineyard is a 96 square mile island south of Cape Cod in New England that has been a popular summer haunt for America's moneyed elite since the 19th century, although its all-year residents make less money on average than the rest of Massachusetts.

Io Dodds25 July 2023 03:44

Instagram videos show golfing, deadlifting

Campbell was also a keen amateur golfer, according to his Instagram account.

One video showed him practicing his swing, asking followers to judge his form with one of two options: “Chef, you ready” and “Stick to cheffing!!”

Other videos showed him deadlifting weights and cycling alone during the early Covid-19 pandemic, recording his journeys with a GoPro camera.

Io Dodds25 July 2023 04:50

Everything we know so far

Here's a roundup of everything we know so far, by Io Dodds and Andrea Blanco.

Emergency services were called to the Obama residence around 7.40pm on Sunday, with a witness telling officers that they had seen another paddleboarder sink underwater after struggling to stay on the surface.

Divers and boats with sonar were brought in to aid the search, leading to the recovery of the paddleboarder's body on Monday morning.

That afternoon, police named the man as 45-year-old Tafari Campbell, who had worked as a personal chef to the Obama family during their time in the White House and continued to work for them after Barack Obama left office.

Read their full story here.

Anuj Pant25 July 2023 07:07

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