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 the chef, Tafari Campbell, 45, of Dumfries, Virginia, who was visiting the Vineyard, was found just before 10 a.m. Monday, about 100 feet from the shore in Edgartown Great Pond, in water about eight feet deep, by Massachusetts Environmental Police. He deployed sonar from a boat during an hour-long search that began Sunday night and involved multiple law enforcement agencies.
Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama were not home at the time of the crash, state police said. State police and the Edgartown Police Department are investigating the death of Mr. Campbell, who had worked as a sous chef when the Obamas were in the White House and stayed with them afterwards.
Just before 8 p.m. Sunday, Edgartown emergency services responded to the Edgartown Great Pond near Turkeyland Cove, where Obama has a summer home, for a call from “a stand-up paddleboarder who had entered the water, appeared to briefly struggle to stay on the surface and then submerged and did not resurface,” state police said in a statement.
Another rower was in the pond with him at the time and saw him go underwater, police said. State police, the US Coast Guard and several local fire units, 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 re-equip and assess next steps,” state police said.
Chief Alex Schaeffer of the Edgartown Fire Department told The Vineyard Gazette that police officers and island 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 got to know him as a warm, funny and extraordinarily kind person who made our lives a little bit brighter.”
The Obamas said they had asked Campbell to stay with them as they prepared to leave the White House.
“He has been a part of our lives ever since,” they said. “Our hearts are broken that he is gone.”
According to his statement, Mr. Campbell’s survivors include his wife, Sherise, and his twin boys, Xavier and Savin.
The Obamas, longtime summer visitors to Martha’s Vineyard, bought a secluded 30 acre property on the south coast in 2019 for $11.75 million. His seven-bedroom, 6,900-square-foot home fronts Edgartown’s Great Pond with views of a barrier beach and ocean. The calm, brackish coastal pond has multiple inlets that are popular with recreational boaters, especially kayakers and paddle boarders hoping to catch a spectacular sunset.
The National Weather Service reported fair and clear conditions Sunday night, with a high around 70 degrees.
Obama has visited the Vineyard since his days as an Illinois senator and spent part of every August on the island for seven of the eight years he was in office, skipping 2012 during a re-election campaign.
This is not the first time that a chef for a former US 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 go to excursion in Taos, New Mexico