OBAMA ENDS HAWAII VISIT
Obama leaves Hawaii for Nevada after visit to ill grandmother
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By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writers
By Dan Nakaso
Barack Obama spent part of the past two days with the beloved grandmother he calls "Toot" in what could turn out to be their last moments together.
Just before 3:30 p.m. yesterday, Obama said his goodbyes to the woman who helped raise him, Madelyn Payne Dunham, and his motorcade left the two-bedroom Beretania Street apartment where he grew up.
Obama's private jet lifted off from Honolulu International Airport just after 5 p.m., en route to Nevada for the start of his final push for the White House.
On Monday, Obama's campaign announced his decision to cancel campaign appearances to visit Dunham, his maternal grandmother, who turns 86 tomorrow.
Obama, the Honolulu-born Democratic senator from Illinois, made the long flight home following a Thursday rally in Indianapolis.
He did not want to relive his experience in 1995, when he arrived too late to say goodbye to his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who died of cancer at the age of 53, said U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawai'i).
"It's grave and it's serious," Abercrombie said of Dunham's condition. "That's why he's here. They miscalculated on how much time his mother had and he was on his way to visit her. Of course, she passed away before he could come.
"Those of us who live here in the Islands are used to how long it takes to get here. If the physicians say it's a serious situation, you don't hesitate to come, particularly if it's his grandmother and the last link to his mom and dad. It's the Hawaiian style, the way we deal with things in Hawai'i. It's all family. It's all 'ohana. We all come together."
Dunham broke her hip when she slipped in her 10th-floor apartment on Oct. 6 or 7, and has since suffered from undisclosed medical problems. Her mobility already had been slowed by osteoporosis.
Obama's jet landed Thursday night and his motorcade immediately drove to Dunham's home in the Punahou Circle Apartments, where she has been cared for by Obama's sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, a teacher at La Pietra-Hawaii School for Girls.
Obama spent the night at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Waikiki and returned to Dunham's apartment at 8:16 a.m. yesterday.
After nearly two hours inside with his grandmother, Obama emerged in jeans, a black polo shirt, black slippers and sunglasses to take a brief, somber walk down Young Street, around the neighborhood of his boyhood.
He did not wave to cameras and did not wear the smile of his campaign ads.
After a few moments, supporters, reporters, photographers and TV camera people began sprinting toward Obama, until a silver Dodge Grand Caravan pulled up at the corner of Young Street and Villa Lane at 10:09 a.m. and returned Obama to his "Toot," the nickname Obama truncated from the local term for grandparent, "tutu."
"You can hear it in his voice when he says it, 'Toot,' " said Alice Dewey, a University of Hawai'i professor emeritus of anthropology, who is a family friend and was Stanley Ann Dunham's graduate studies adviser at UH. "They are very close. She (Madelyn Dunham) has always been a small, slight woman, but tough. She held his nose to the grindstone, but also lavished him with love."
Well-wishers have been bringing flowers and lei to Dunham's apartment building in Makiki.
But, like untold others, Dewey has been wishing for the best from a distance.
"I've just left them alone," she said. "I know they want peace and quiet."
State Sen. Clayton Hee, D-23rd (Kane'ohe, Kahuku) said he became an early Obama supporter when he heard that Obama calls Dunham "Toot."
Hee, who served as chairman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for seven years, said that detail created an instant bond to Obama for him.
"It is a profound statement to someone who is a Hawaiian and speaks the language and has a mother who is referred to as a tutu," Hee said. "It is all at once a message to the world. It is an identity to the Islands.
"From the first time I heard that he referred to his grandmother as 'Toot,' I felt a profound linkage to this man. As a native son of Hawai'i, it suggests very strong in my mind that there is a connection to Hawai'i that remains at the core of this man who seeks to be president."
While dozens of people were gathered outside Dunham's apartment Thursday and yesterday, Hee believed most supporters were respecting the family's privacy.
"It must be a difficult time for him," he said. "I cannot even begin to imagine what he is going through while running for the most powerful position on the planet."
HOPING FOR A GLIMPSE
By yesterday afternoon, the crowd outside Dunham's apartment had swelled to around 100 people.
Some came to get a glimpse of their candidate. Others had notes clutched in their hands, hoping they could give them to Obama.
Arthur Witherspoon wore an Obama T-shirt of his own design that he hoped to offer Obama as a gift.
"I appreciate him visiting his grandmother," Witherspoon said. "It shows character. It shows his strong moral values. That's something we need."
UH student Maria Egemba, 23, just hoped for a glimpse of the man.
"Obama has broken down so many barriers," said Egemba, 23. "If he can do it, then you can, too, you know. I use him as my inspiration."
Beverly Nelson and Norma Parado were on their way back from lunch when they saw the crowd outside Dunham's apartment, parked, pulled out lawn chairs and joined in.
"I'm so glad he's here doing this," said Nelson, who spends part of the year in Hawai'i, the rest on the Mainland. "What he's doing at a time like this, he's showing such strength of character. He's paused his campaigning for family. That's the kind of person you want leading our country."
Parado, a Nu'uanu resident, wanted to stay on the opposite side of Beretania Street to give Obama and his family space.
"I don't plan to speak to him," Prado said. "I really came to offer a prayer."
Reach Dan Nakaso at email@example.com.