HONOLULU - President-elect Barack Obama paid tribute to his grandmother, one of the central figures in his life, in a private church service Tuesday afternoon, before scattering her ashes in the Pacific.
Madelyn Dunham died at age 86 just two days before her grandson won the election. Tuesday was the first time Obama has been able to formally mourn her death, surrounded by friends and family in his home state.
He attended the hour-long service at the First Unitarian Church, a converted light-tan, two-story home, with his wife, Michelle, his daughters, Malia and Sasha, and his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng.
After the service, Obama's motorcade drove an alcove off the highway along the Pacific Ocean that some locals said was called Lanai Lookout. There, more than a dozen friends and family joined Obama, who was dressed casually and wearing sunglasses, along a rocky shoreline as he scattered his grandmother's remains.
A no-nonsense woman who took a job on a bomber assembly line while her husband fought in World War II, Dunham had been the lone survivor of those who had raised Obama. During her grandson's rise in national politics she humbly reflected on her influence.
"I suppose I provided stability in his life," Dunham told the Chicago Tribune in a 2004.
Obama often spoke of his grandmother during the campaign.
"She's where I get my practical streak," he liked to say.
He told the story about how she had started as a secretary and worked her way up to be vice president of a bank.
"She's the one who taught me about hard work," Obama said in his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. '"She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she's watching tonight and that tonight is her night as well."
Dunham, a white woman from Kansas, was also a cornerstone into her grandson's speech on race in Philadelphia. Obama described her as "a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street."
Obama live with his grandparents in Honolulu throughout his teenage years. His Kenyan father abandoned him at a young age. He lived on and off with his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who died of ovarian cancer in 1995. Obama's grandfather, Stanley Dunham, died in 1992 and is buried at Punchbowl National Cemetery, known as the Arlington of the Pacific, in Honolulu.
Asked in late September for his most iconic memory of his grandmother, Obama told ABC's Diane Sawyer about how she would home from work, slip on a muumuu and a pair of slippers and have a drink and a smoke.
"You know, that part of me that's hardheaded," Obama said, "I get it from her. She's, she's tough as nails."
Dunham, who called her grandson "Bear," had had been gravely ill with cancer, but was said to follow Obama's campaign from a television set in the modest Honolulu apartment where she raised him.
When Obama vacationed in Hawaii this past August, he visited Dunham almost every day, telling reporters at the time that she was "sharp as a tack" but could not travel because of osteoporosis.
In late October, Obama suspended his campaign to return to Honolulu to see his grandmother for the last time. He learned that she had died as he was set to begin a final multi-city campaign swing the day before the election.
"She was the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength, and humility," Obama and his sister said in a statement at the time. "She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances."