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Obamas' personal chef dies while paddleboarding in Martha's Vineyard

The Gay Head lighthouse rises above the cliffs on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., in 2010. The body of Tafari Campbell, a personal chef to the Obamas, was recently recovered in nearby Edgartown Great Pond.
Don Emmert
/
AFP via Getty Images
The Gay Head lighthouse rises above the cliffs on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., in 2010. The body of Tafari Campbell, a personal chef to the Obamas, was recently recovered in nearby Edgartown Great Pond.

A personal chef to the Obama family drowned while paddleboarding in Martha's Vineyard, police confirmed on Monday.

The body of Tafari Campbell, 45, of Dumfries, Va., was uncovered after a two-day search in Edgartown Great Pond, near a home owned by the Obamas. The Massachusetts State Police said the former president and first lady were not present at the time of the drowning.

Campbell had served as a White House sous chef during Barack Obama's presidency and left in 2016 to work for the former president and his wife.

The office of Barack and Michelle Obama did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment, but in a joint statement shared with several news outlets, including the Associated Press, the couple characterized Campbell as 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 Obamas wrote. "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 search for Campbell began on Sunday after a fellow paddleboarder observed him dip into the water, reappear briefly, struggling to stay on the surface, then submerge entirely, according to a police statement.

A recovery effort involving helicopters, boats, divers and detectives was paused briefly overnight. Campbell's body was found just before 10 a.m. local time Monday, roughly 100 feet from shore by a boat deploying side-scanning sonar.

The chef leaves behind his wife and twin sons, the Obamas said in their statement.

His death will be investigated by Edgartown and Massachusetts police.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.