Raleigh, N.C. If Michelle Obama is her husband's "rock," his grandmother is a big part of the ground beneath it.
Madelyn Payne Dunham gave young Barack Obama a place to call home while his mother traveled the world. When he needed money for school, she went without new clothes to help pay his tuition.
And when the Illinois Senator decided to seek the Democratic presidential nomination, Dunham provided the "Kansas heartland" pedigree he needed to appeal to conservative white voters - and a personal anecdote about racial prejudice that helped the man with the foreign name and Ivy League resume connect with the black experience.
The 85-year-old former bank executive is said to be "gravely ill" after falling and breaking her hip, and some reports suggest she might not live to see the results of the Nov. 4 election. Whatever happens, she's already lived long enough to see her "Barry" achieve what she'd wanted for him, her brother says.
"I think she thinks she was important in raising a fine young man," Charles Payne, 83, said in a brief telephone interview Tuesday from his Chicago home. "I doubt if it would occur to her that he would go this far this fast. But she's enjoyed watching it."
Although he made his mark thousands of miles from the Honolulu apartment where she helped raise him, Obama and others credit Dunham - whose birthday is Sunday - with instilling in him an appreciation for education and hard work, and with setting an example of thrift, practicality and tolerance.
"I think there's nobody more important than her, except his mother, in shaping his character," said David Mendell, who wrote the book, "Obama: From Promise to Power."