The Obamas’ personal chef Tafari Campbell was found dead in Martha’s Vineyard

Tafari Campbell was a White House sous chef during the Obama administration. Following that turn, he became private chef to Barack and Michelle Obama at their Martha’s Vineyard estate. His Instagram is full of all of the beautiful food he created for the Obamas and as a private event chef. This past weekend, Tafari apparently went paddle-boarding at the beach and he was seen “going underwater” and never resurfacing. Police were called immediately on Sunday and they found Tafari Campbell’s body. This story is so sad.

Former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama are mourning the loss of a “beloved” member of their staff, calling him “a truly wonderful man.” Tafari Campbell — a former White House sous chef who later became the Obamas’ personal chef — died on Monday in a paddle boarding accident near the Obamas’ Katama estate in Martha’s Vineyard. He was 45.

Massachusetts State Police, who confirmed Campbell’s death to PEOPLE, said in a news release that Campbell, who was from Dumfries, Virginia, was recovered by divers from a pond on Edgartown Great Road shortly before 10 a.m. ET.

“MSP Underwater Recovery Unit divers made the recovery after the victim’s body was located by Massachusetts Environmental Police Officers deploying side-scan sonar from a boat,” the department said in the release, noting the recovery was made “approximately 100 feet from shore at a depth of about eight feet.”

MSP later told PEOPLE in a statement, “Mr. Campbell was visiting Martha’s Vineyard at the time of his passing. President and Mrs. Obama were not present at the residence at the time of the accident.”

The search started at 7:46 p.m. ET on Sunday when Martha’s Vineyard police and fire agencies responded to a 911 call for “a male paddle boarder who had gone into the water, appeared to briefly struggle to stay on the surface, and then submerged and did not resurface.”

The Obamas shared a touching tribute to Campbell following his death, calling Tafari “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 a joint statement sent to PEOPLE. “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.”

“Today we join everyone who knew and loved Tafari — especially his wife Sherise and their twin boys, Xavier and Savin — in grieving the loss of a truly wonderful man,” they added.

The ongoing investigation into Campbell’s death is being conducted by the State Police Detective Unit for the Cape and Islands District and Edgartown Police.

[From People]

Again, this is just so sad – it’s a horrible accident, but the police have every right to investigate what happened. I suspect it was something to do with the water current but what do I know. What I can’t stand is that people (wingnuts) are already calling this the “Obama Body Count.” Like… Obama had zero scandals in the White House, and his post-presidency has been devoted to writing, golfing and spending time with his family. There is no scandal here, just tragedy.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Backgrid, and Instagram.

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29 Responses to “The Obamas’ personal chef Tafari Campbell was found dead in Martha’s Vineyard”

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  1. Lightpurple says:

    This is so sad

  2. girl_ninja says:

    Poor Tafari. It’s so sad especially given his age. Of course people have been trying to tie a controversy to the Obamas for years. The tides here in NE have been very strong. I’m be beach day there were 4 times lifeguards had to save folks. May Tafari RIP.

    • Lucy2 says:

      This is so true. I live near the beach in the NE and every year there are tragedies in the water. Especially when people disregard warnings and swim when the rip currents are strong. Swim near a lifeguard and watch your kids.

      This is such a sad, tragic story, I can’t imagine the shock and loss that his family and loved ones are feeling. Paddle boarding, at least around here, is typically done in calmer waters, which those ponds generally are, I wonder if he fell and hit his head or got caught on some thing underneath? His poor family.

      • Concern Fae says:

        It happened in a pond. Don’t know if it was a salt pond which could have currents or not.

      • Kitten says:

        My guess is that he drowned. Was he wearing a life jacket? Something I notice about paddleboarders (around NE at least) is that they never seem to wear paddle vests or lifejackets for some reason.

        45 is WAY too young. Just so tragic for him and his family.

      • Lucy2 says:

        Apparently it was the Edgartown great pond, which is brackish water and likely affected by tides/current. But I can’t imagine strong enough to pull someone under, hopefully they’re able to figure out what happened to him, but whatever the case, it’s just so tragic.

      • Kitten says:

        Right, but it doesn’t take a current to pull someone under if they can’t swim.

        Just a couple weeks ago, a guy in a Maine pond died in just 6′ of water after diving in and trying to save his daughters (who were eventually saved by his son) after they accidentally fell in. ASFAI, only the son put on his lifejacket when he went to save the girls. Can’t help but think that they all could have been saved if they had their jackets on the whole time.

    • DaveM says:

      First, I’m so sorry for his family and friends, sounds like he was a wonderful guy.

      I used to lifeguard and the few times I had to go in after someone it was their panic that was causing the issue more than water depth, cramping, being tired, etc.

      Also, all of this. I live in NE too, off of Narragansett Bay, and I am amazed at how many people I see out on the water without a life jacket in site; people on paddle boards are most often the ones without, assuming because they are tethered to the board if they fall off and can’t swim they can just hold on to the board (I looked out my back window and 2 nonlifejacket wearing SUPr’s just went by. Surface looks calm, but there are a ton of plants, mud, roots just afoot or so down). FWIW they have life jackets now that are not big and bulky and you almost don’t notice you are wearing one (they inflate when they hit the water using a CO2 cartridge), so please, please, wear one!

  3. NJGR says:

    His poor kids!

  4. Kingston says:

    This headline is misleading. I wonder why?

    • BlueNailsBetty says:

      Same. I was surprised that the real story was a drowning that was known immediately. The headline makes it sound like his body was randomly found.

  5. slippers4life says:

    This is such a sad tragedy. Love and support to his friends and family. Shame on anyone being so disrespectful to use such a traumatic event as an opportunity to attach scandal because police are following standard procedure to investigate a death of this nature for the purposes of providing answers for this man’s loved ones and investigating the safety of the area. This is a terrible accident where a man lost his life; a woman lost her husband; children lost a father, and many lost a family member and friend. Show some respect!

  6. Nanea says:

    As the accident happened in a pond, it sounds like Tafari had some sort of medical emergency.

    So sad for his family and friends.

  7. ThatsNotOkay says:

    Truly devastating news. I’m so sad for all those he left behind.

  8. Hyperbolme says:

    Unfortunately he could not swim. He had a caption on his ig with the hashtag “stillcantswim” and had referenced working on learning to swim.

    It’s unfathomable to me, but people who can’t swim really do go out on the water without life vests every day because they feel overly confident in their paddleboard/kayak. What a tragedy.

    • Kitten says:

      All. The. TIME. It’s crazy.
      I don’t have the data but my guess is that at least 70% of water-related deaths are directly related to the victim’s inability to swim.

      Last summer, a young father jumped off a popular bridge in my hometown and ended up drowning. It was later revealed that he couldn’t swim. I grew up on the ocean and swimming lessons, boating safety, rip current/waves safety etc etc is stuff you learn as young as four years old. My husb and I are avid and experienced ocean kayakers but we do not leave the shore without our lifejackets, a whistle, bilge pumps etc. We do everything to set ourselves up for success from studying the tides and wind speeds to finding the perfect launch point. Even then, accidents can happen and a healthy respect for the ocean with a good dose of humility is essential when doing anything on the water.

    • TeamMeg says:

      That is just shocking to me. Learn to swim or wear a life jacket. What the hell? So sad.

    • Glamarazzi says:

      Oh, wow. So tragic, and such a life lesson – play to your strengths and bolster your weaknesses. And don’t go out alone! (Though it does sound as though someone called 911 pretty instantaneously, it sounds like there was an eyewitness to the event that called in the moment.)

      Condolences to his family, what a tragic loss too soon.

    • James says:

      I hate to hear that. Everyone should learn how to swim or at least tread water AND wear a damn life vest. My daughter was a competitive swimmer and a lifeguard and she still wears a life vest while paddle boarding and on a boat because you never know. Unless he had some medical emergency, this could have been avoided.

      • BeanieBean says:

        Knowing how to swim means nothing if you clunk your head & get knocked unconscious. Such a sad event for his family & friends.

      • Kitten says:

        @Beanie- except he didn’t fall and “clunk his head”. And…falling and “clunking your head” isn’t how anyone dies in water. You might hit your head before you hit the water but even that is exceedingly rare. It’s the DROWNING—the panicking because you can’t swim—that kills people most often. Again, shocking how many people don’t know this.

  9. Allegra says:

    How awful! I don’t think it could have been about currents or waves, because the report mentions that it was a pond. I wonder if he couldn’t swim at all, and panicked.

    How tragic for his wife and sons.

  10. trillion says:

    I wonder if he had a cardiac event while paddle boarding. I first hand know of three – THREE!- men, all middle aged- who died while surfing after suffering heart attacks in the water.

    • Rnot says:

      Being in water can prevent people from realizing that they’re over-exerting because they’re cool and wet so they don’t get the cue to slow down from sweating and overheating.

    • Tisme says:

      Yeah, I feel like it would have to be something like a heart event.
      And 8 feet of water? In a pond? Did someone observe this and if so, why does it sound like nobody did anything in the moment??

  11. Sunny O says:

    This is heartwrenching.

    I send my deepest condolences to Tafari Campbell’s family and loved ones.

  12. jferber says:

    So sad. RIP.

  13. AC says:

    Very sad. May he Rest in peace 🙏