Virginia McLaurin, the centenarian who danced emotionally with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during a visit to the White House in 2016, has died. She was 113 years old. McLaurin’s son, Felipe Cardoso Jr., said Tuesday that she died early Monday morning at his home in Olney, Maryland.
“Rest in peace Virginia,” the Obamas wrote on Twitter. “We know you’re up there dancing.”
McLaurin visited the White House for a Black History Month reception in February 2016, when she was 106 years old. “Hello!” McLaurin screeched as he was introduced to the president.
“Do you want to say hi to Michelle?” Obama asked. “Yes!” McLaurin said, moving quickly to give the first lady a hug. “Slow down now!” said the president. “Don’t go too fast.”
The women then held hands as they entered an impromptu dance, the president holding McLaurin’s arm. “I thought I would never live to make it to the White House,” he said. “And I tell you that I am very happy.” A black president. A black wife! And I’m here to celebrate black history. Yes, that’s why I’m here.”
Video of the encounter quickly spread online, garnering international news coverage. After the brief meeting, McLaurin told reporters: “I could die happy.”
Deborah Menkart, a friend who helped organize McLaurin’s visit in 2016, said it dramatically changed her life. She said McLaurin lived “very frugally” at the time, but her fame prompted people to donate to a care fund for her. “She got a new wig, she got new teeth, she was able to move to a better apartment,” Menkart said.
Later that year, McLaurin appeared at a Washington Nationals baseball game and was presented with a team jersey on the field.
McLaurin also used his fame to help others. Born on March 12, 1909, in South Carolina without a birth certificate, McLaurin was unable to obtain an identification card. Shortly after the White House visit, Menkart suggested contacting the mayor’s office and the Washington Post, which interviewed her and published a story. Washington city officials soon issued him a temporary card and announced new regulations giving residents 70 and older more options for obtaining IDs.
“She changed her life not just for herself, but for the influence she had,” Menkart said. The daughter of a sharecropper, McLaurin spent decades after retirement volunteering in schools. According to Obama White House files, she was a foster grandmother and a mentor to students with special needs, helping the children with reading and social skills.
“She was so carefree,” Cardoso said. She “she Said that the secret of her life was not to worry, so she never let things worry her. She just didn’t pay attention to it.”
Cardoso said McLaurin adopted him when he was 3 years old. “She loved and she cared for everyone,” he said. “She definitely had a big heart for kids.” Cardoso said funeral arrangements were pending.