An Obama family personal chef died over the weekend after he was seen struggling in the water while paddleboarding near the first family’s former home on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts state police said Monday.
The body of chef, Tafari Campbell, 45, of Dumfries, Virginia, who was touring the vineyard, was found just before 10 a.m. Monday about 100 feet from shore at Edgartown Great Pond in water about eight feet deep by Massachusetts Environmental Police. He had deployed sonar from a boat during an hour-long search that began Sunday night and involved several law enforcement agencies.
Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama were not home at the time of the incident, state police said. An investigation into the death of Mr. Campbell, who had worked as a sous chef when the Obamas were in the White House and stayed with them afterward, was conducted by the state police and the Edgartown Police Department.
Just before 8 p.m. Sunday, Edgartown 911 responded to Edgartown Great Pond near Turkeyland Cove, where Obama has a summer home, to a call from « a male paddleboarder who had entered the water, appeared to struggle briefly to stay on the surface and then submerged and did not reappear, » state police said in a statement.
Another paddleboarder was in the pond with him at the time and saw him go underwater, police said. State police, the U.S. Coast Guard, and several local fire departments, including divers, assisted in the search.
After several hours of searching Sunday night, « the operation was halted to allow dive teams, flight crews and other first responders to retool and evaluate next steps, » the state police said.
Chief Alex Schaeffer of the Edgartown Fire Department he told The Vineyard Gazette that island police officers and firefighters had conducted door-to-door searches after Mr. Campbell was reported missing, and that firefighters had searched the shoreline of the pond on foot.
In a statement, Mr. and Mrs. Obama called Mr. Campbell « a truly wonderful man » and « 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,” they said. « In the years that followed, we came to know him as a warm, funny, extraordinarily kind person who made all of our lives that little bit brighter. »
The Obamas said they asked Mr. Campbell to stay with them as they prepared to leave the White House.
« It’s been a part of our lives ever since, » they said. « Our hearts are broken because he’s gone. »
According to their statement, Mr. Campbell’s survivors include his wife, Sherise, and twin boys, Xavier and Savin.
The Obamas, longtime summer visitors to Martha’s Vineyard, bought a secluded 30-acre property on the South Shore in 2019 for $11.75 million. Their seven-bedroom, 6,900-square-foot home fronts Edgartown Great Pond with views of a barrier beach and the ocean. The calm, brackish coastal pond has multiple coves that are popular with recreational boaters, especially kayakers and paddleboarders hoping to catch a spectacular sunset.
The National Weather Service reported fair and clear conditions Sunday night, with highs hovering around 70 degrees.
Mr. Obama has visited the Vineyard since his days as an Illinois senator and has spent part of every August on the island for seven of the eight years he’s been in office, skipping 2012 while campaigning for re-election.
It is not the first time that a chef of a former American president has died suddenly. Walter Scheib, a former executive chef during the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, accidentally drowned in 2015 after going on a hike in Taos, New Mexico