Tafari Campbell, a former White House sous chef and a close friend of Barack and Michelle Obama, died on July 24, 2023, while paddleboarding near the Obamas’ home on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
He was 45 years old and is survived by his wife Sherise and their twin boys, Xavier and Savin.
A Beloved Part of the Obama Family
In a heartfelt statement, the former president and his wife expressed their grief and sorrow over the loss of Campbell, whom they called a “beloved part of our family”. They recalled how they first met him as a talented and passionate sous chef at the White House, and how they grew to know him as a warm, fun, and extraordinarily kind person who made their lives brighter.
They also revealed that they asked Campbell to stay with them after they left the White House in 2017, and he generously agreed. He had been part of their lives ever since, and they said their hearts were broken that he was gone.
A Paddleboarding Enthusiast Who Loved the Water
Campbell was an avid paddleboarder who loved the water and enjoyed exploring new places. He was visiting Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, where the Obamas have a vacation home. He was paddleboarding with another person on Edgartown Great Pond, a large saltwater pond that connects to the Atlantic Ocean.
According to Massachusetts State Police, Campbell went into the water around 7:46 p.m. on Sunday, July 23, 2023. He appeared to briefly struggle to stay on the surface, and then submerged and did not resurface. The other paddleboarder witnessed the incident and called for help.
A Tragic End to a Search and Rescue Operation
A search and rescue operation was launched by local police and fire agencies, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard. The search was suspended late Sunday night due to darkness and poor visibility. It resumed early Monday morning with the assistance of a state police underwater recovery unit.
Using sonar technology, the divers located Campbell’s body shortly before 10 a.m. on Monday, July 24, 2023. He was about 100 feet (30 meters) from shore at a depth of about 8 feet (2.4 meters). He was not wearing a life jacket, police said.
The cause of death is under investigation by the state medical examiner’s office. Police said there were no signs of foul play or suspicious circumstances.
A Tribute to a Wonderful Man
Campbell’s death has shocked and saddened many people who knew him personally or professionally. He was widely respected and admired for his culinary skills, his creativity, his generosity, and his personality.
He had worked as a sous chef at the White House during the Obama administration from 2009 to 2017. He had also worked as a chef at various restaurants in Washington D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. He had a passion for food and its ability to bring people together.
He was also an amateur golfer who participated in several tournaments and events. He had a love for sports and fitness, and was always up for a challenge.
He was a devoted husband and father who cherished his family above all else. He was also a loyal friend who always had a smile on his face and a joke to share.
The Obamas said they joined everyone who knew and loved Campbell in grieving the loss of a truly wonderful man. They asked for privacy and respect during this difficult time.
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