Obamas’ personal chef Tafari Campbell drowns near family’s home on Martha’s Vineyard

The 45-year-old had worked for the former president during his time in the White House, and stayed on after Barack Obama finished his second term

Tafari Campbell in an image shared on social media.
Tafari Campbell in an image shared on social media.CORTESÍA

On Sunday afternoon, authorities on Martha’s Vineyard — an exclusive island off the coast of Massachusetts where many celebrities own mansions — were informed that a paddleboarder appeared to be in trouble, and had disappeared under the water. A search began for the paddleboarder, whose body was found on Monday. Authorities revealed that the victim was Tafari Campbell, 45, the personal chef for the Obamas, who had worked for the family when Barack Obama was president.

Campbell drowned in the waters surrounding Martha’s Vineyard, where the Obamas own a large home that they bought in 2019. The former president and his wife, Michelle Obama, were not at home at the time of the accident, according to the Massachusetts state police, who explained that Campbell “was spending a few days” on the island. Neither the Obamas, nor Campbell’s family nor the police have stated whether Tafari Campbell was staying at the Obamas’ home on Martha’s Vineyard.

In a statement, the former president and former first lady called Campbell a “beloved part of our family.”

“When we first met him, he was a talented sous chef at the White House – creative and passionate about food, and its ability to bring people together,” the couple said. “In the years that followed, we got to know him as a warm, fun, extraordinarily kind person who made all of our lives a little brighter.”

“That’s why, when we were getting ready to leave the White House, we asked Tafari to stay with us, and he generously agreed. He’s been part of our lives ever since, and our hearts are broken that he’s gone.”

The Obamas said Campbell is survived by his wife and their twin boys.

The search started Sunday afternoon following reports from a fellow paddleboarder that he had seen someone who struggled on the surface, went under and didn’t resurface. Campbell was not wearing a life jacket, police said.

The search was paused late Sunday but on Monday state police said sonar from a boat located the body about 100 feet (30 meters) from shore at a depth of about 8 feet (2.4 meters). Campbell’s body was found in Edgartown Great Pond, on the south shore of Martha’s Vineyard, very close to the Obamas’ home, which is located near Turkeyland Cove Road. The Edgartown Police Department has opened an investigation into the death.

During his days at the presidential residence in Washington, Campbell was part of the team in charge of producing honey in the south garden, and collecting it with Michelle Obama. He used this honey to brew White House honey ale beer.

The home that the Obamas bought in 2019 on Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts. In the background, the Edgartown Great Pond is seen.
The home that the Obamas bought in 2019 on Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts. In the background, the Edgartown Great Pond is seen.REALTOR

The Obamas spent seven summers during Barack’s presidency on Martha’s Vineyard, and liked the island so much that they bought a nearly 700-square meter house there. The Obamas bought the home shortly before the pandemic from Wycliffe Grousbeck, the owner of the Boston Celtics. It is valued at more than $13 million, and has a swimming pool, stone fireplaces and private access to the beach.

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