The matriarch of former President Barack Obama’s Kenyan family has died, according to Kenyan officials. Mama Sarah, as she was affectionately known as, was 99.
“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,” President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya said in a statement.
According to Mama Sarah’s daughter, Marsat Onyango, the 99-year-old died while receiving treatment at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral hospital in Kisumu, Kenya.
“She died this morning. We are devastated,” Onyango told the Associated Press.
A family spokesperson said she did not die from COVID-19 and had tested negative for the virus, but said she had been sick the week leading up to her death.
Kenya’s president stated that the passing of Mama Sarah was a “big blow” to the nation.
She was well known for her contribution to the education system and her philanthropy, specifically her work to help orphans and vulnerable children.
Mama Sarah even took it upon herself to raise some children in her own home.
She had her own foundation, the Mama Sarah Obama Foundation, which helped provide basic needs like food and education to children who had lost their parents.
In 2014, she received the first Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Education Pioneer Award from the United Nations for her work to support education.
Although Barack Obama was not a blood relative, she was the second wife of former President Obama’s grandfather, he referred to Mama Sarah as “Granny” and thanked her for raising his father.
The two first met in 1988.
“When I first traveled to Kenya to learn more about my heritage and father, who had passed away by then, it was Granny who served as a bridge to the past, and it was her stories that helped fill a void in my heart,” he wrote on Instagram.
She would later attend his first inauguration in 2009.
“We will miss her dearly, but celebrate with gratitude her long and remarkable life.”
Rest in peace Mama Sarah, you will never be forgotten.