US president-elect Barack Obama’s mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, is moving into the White House at least temporarily to join Michelle Obama and the two children, transition officials said on Friday.
That is good news not just for late-night TV comics, but for 10-year-old Malia and seven-year-old Sasha. During the campaign, Robinson retired from her job as a bank executive secretary to help care for her granddaughters.
“Mrs Robinson will be coming with the family to help the girls get acclimated and she will determine in the coming months whether or not she wants to stay in [Washington] permanently,” said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, spokeswoman for Michelle Obama.
Michelle Obama also made another hotly awaited decision: She is keeping the White House chef. Cristeta Comerford took the job in 2005 and is the first woman and first minority to serve as executive chef.
“Cristeta Comerford brings such incredible talent to the White House operation and came very highly regarded from the Bush family,” Michelle Obama said in a statement released by the transition team. “Also the mom of a young daughter, I appreciate our shared perspective on the importance of healthy eating and healthy families.”
Comerford is a naturalized US citizen from the Philippines who studied French cooking in Vienna, Austria, and specializes in ethnic and American cuisine.
Plenty of in-laws have taken up residence in the White House before, not to mention cousins, grandchildren and other relatives.
“Throughout history there have been many extended first families in office,” said Robert Watson, author of Life in the White House.
Ulysses Grant’s father-in-law, Richard Dent, stayed for several years. Former president Harry Truman’s mother-in-law, Madge Gates Wallace, lived there, too, and was critical of her son-in-law, said Maria Downs of the White House Historical Association.
Mamie Eisenhower’s mother was a little more complacent: So much so that she generally stayed in her room and slept until noon, Downs said.
By all accounts, Obama has a good relationship with his mother-in-law. She had put off retirement for years, but finally retired last summer to take care of the granddaughters while their parents campaigned.
“She didn’t want anyone else taking care of the kids but her,” McCormick Lelyveld said. “She wanted to be the one there.”
Obama has called her one of the unsung heroes of his campaign and spoke of holding her hand on election night.
But asked by 60 Minutes if Robinson would move in, he said: “Well, I don’t tell my mother-in-law what to do. But I’m not stupid. That’s why I got elected president, man.”