Grieving Obamas were in Martha’s Vineyard when chef drowned at their home: ‘Our hearts are broken’

Father-of-two Tafari Campbell, 45, died in the water near the Obama family’s mansion

Io Dodds
Wednesday 26 July 2023 16:18 BST
911 dispatch audio captures Obama chef's death

Barack Obama and his family have paid tribute to the former president’s longtime personal chef after he died while paddleboarding near their home in Martha’s Vineyard.

Tafari Campbell, 45, from Virginia, was found dead in the water near the Obama family’s mansion on Monday morning, about a hundred feet from shore.

Police told local media that they were called to the Obama house on Sunday night by reports of a man paddleboarding who slipped under the water after a “brief struggle” to stay on the surface.

Mr Campbell had cooked for Obamas during their eight years in the White House and then continued to work for them after Mr Obama left office in 2016.

“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.”

Massachusetts State Police said on Monday that neither the former president nor former first lady Michelle were at the home at the time of the tragedy.

However, The Office of Barack and Michelle Obama later clarified that they were in Martha’s Vineyard at the time but were just not at the home when the tragedy unfolded.

The Independent has contacted the Obamas’ office for more details.

On Sunday evening, police were called after Campbell was seen struggling in the water while paddleboarding near the former first family’s home, state police said.

Sherise Campbell posts on Instagram following her husband Tafari’s death

Following an overnight search, his body was found just before 10am on Monday around 100 feet from the shore of Edgartown’s Great Pond.

Massachusetts State Police said on Tuesday that an autopsy found no evidence that the death was suspicious and no trauma or injuries were found on Campbell’s body. A paddle-boarder who was at the pond with Campbell when the tragedy unfolded told law enforcement that the late chef was standing on his paddleboard when he lost balance.

“He was not wearing a personal flotation device and was not leashed to the paddleboard. The fellow paddle boarder tried to swim to Mr Campbell’s location but did not reach him in time,” the update read. “The other paddle boarder then swam to shore and notified a person on shore of what had happened.”

MSP said no other updates are expected at this time except for standard toxicology results that are protocol in all autopsies and may take several weeks.

Campbell’s wife Sherise has paid tribute to her husband, writing on social media that her life is “forever changed” following his death.

“My heart is broken,” she wrote.

“My life and our family’s life is forever changed. Please pray for me and our families as I deal with the loss of my husband.. @cheftafari.”

Campbell, 45, 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 Mr Obama's office at the time.

The recipe was released to the public after a petition to do so gained around 12,000 signatures.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in