In the capsule version of the Barack Obama story, his mother is simply the white woman from Kansas. The phrase comes coupled alliteratively to its counterpart, the black father from Kenya. On the campaign trail, he has called her his “single mom.” But neither description begins to capture the unconventional life of Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, the parent who most shaped Mr. Obama.
She died in November 1995, as Mr. Obama was starting his first campaign for public office. After a memorial service at the University of Hawaii, one friend said, a small group of friends drove to the South Shore in Oahu. With the wind whipping the waves onto the rocks, Mr. Obama and Ms. Soetoro-Ng placed their mother’s ashes in the Pacific, sending them off in the direction of Indonesia.