CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Madelyn Dunham, who watched from afar as her only grandson rapidly ascended the ranks of American politics to the brink of the presidency, did not live to see whether he was elected.
Mrs. Dunham, 86, Senator Barack Obama’s grandmother, died late Sunday in Hawaii after battling cancer, which Mr. Obama announced upon arriving here on Monday for a campaign stop on the eve of Election Day.
“She has gone home,” said Mr. Obama, his voice tinged with emotion as he briefly spoke of her death at a campaign rally here. “She died peacefully in her sleep with my sister at her side, so there’s great joy instead of tears.”
Mr. Obama learned of his grandmother’s death at 8 a.m. on Monday, aides said, but appeared at a morning rally in Florida without making an announcement. A written statement was issued around 4:30 p.m., in the name of Mr. Obama and his sister, before he spoke at an evening rally in Charlotte. The delay was intended to allow his sister, who was six hours behind in Hawaii, time to take care of a few details before the death became public.
Mrs. Dunham was the final remaining immediate family member who helped raise Mr. Obama during his teenage years in Hawaii. He called her Toot, his shorthand for “tutu,” a Hawaiian term for grandparent.
Mr. Obama left the campaign trail late last month to travel to Honolulu to bid his grandmother farewell. He spent part of two days with her, as she lay gravely ill in the small apartment where he lived from age 10 to 18.
While Mrs. Dunham was too sick to travel to see her grandson on the campaign trail, Mr. Obama and other family members said that she closely followed his bid for the presidency through cable television. Yet she became a figure in his campaign, seen through images in television commercials intended to give him a biographical anchor.
Mrs. Dunham, who grew up near Augusta, Kan., moved with her husband, Stanley Dunham, to Hawaii.
In the early stages of his candidacy, Mr. Obama spoke wistfully about his grandparents, whose all-American biography was suddenly critical to establishing his own American story. He spoke of how his grandmother worked on B-29s at a Boeing plant in Wichita.
For Mr. Obama, the loss came on the final full day of his presidential campaign against Senator John McCain. Campaigning in New Mexico, Mr. McCain offered his condolences and said: “He is in our thoughts and prayers. We mourn his loss, and we are with him and his family today.”
The illness of Mr. Obama’s grandmother had been weighing on him in recent weeks, friends said, which is why he insisted on interrupting his schedule to visit her late last month. While she was gravely ill, aides said, he carried on a limited conversation with her. He kept the visit to one day, advisers said, partly out of her own insistence that people not create a fuss.
“She was one of those quiet heroes that we have all across America,” Mr. Obama said. “They’re not famous. Their names are not in the newspapers, but each and every day they work hard.
“They aren’t seeking the limelight. All they try to do is just do the right thing. In this crowd there are a lot of quiet heroes like that.”