Ashland resident Laurie Montero, bottom left in her family photo, has an unusual relation to Presidential candidate Barack Obama. - Bob Pennell

Uncommon Bonds

Ashland resident Laurie Montero was just 5 years old in 1960 when her father helped in a controversial effort to bring about 250 students from Kenya to prominent universities in the United States.

One of the students in the African airlift effort, which began a year earlier, was presidential candidate Barack Obama's father, something she just discovered last week.

"We have a link through our fathers," said the 53-year-old Obama supporter. "When I first found out, I started to cry."

The more she thought about the work her father did — he was a social activist working for civil rights on the East Coast — the stranger it seemed.

Almost 50 years later, the effort of her father's dream now seemed fulfilled in the candidacy of Obama.

"The powerful effect of it to me was the ripple effect it has in life," she said. "It hit me in the face to see the tangible results."

Montero, who obtained a ticket for Obama's town hall meeting Saturday, has more in common with the Illinois senator than just her father's passion for civil rights.

She is also the product of an interracial marriage that created a stir at the time.

"There was a headline in a New York newspaper that stated, 'Blond heiress marries Negro social worker.' "

Her father, Frank Montero, a black man who grew up in a poor family, married Anne Mather, a descendant of puritan minister Cotton Mather and the member of a socially prominent Boston family, in 1950.

In a 1960 New York Post article, her father said of the marriage, "It created a sensation."

He went on to say, "An interracial marriage depends on the basic relationship between two people. This is the essence of any marriage. The racial factor is just another complication that must be faced."

It also created some difficulties with Mather's family.

"I wasn't allowed to go to my grandparents' home until I was 12 years old," Laurie Montero recalled.

A photo taken in 1960 shows Montero with her family and Tom Mboya, Kenya's labor leader, who was part of the effort to bring the students over.

The negotiations, which also involved State Department officials, made headline news. Frank Montero was instrumental in obtaining a Kennedy Foundation grant of $100,000 after other efforts failed to secure money to pay for the plane flights.

Frank Montero, who was also special assistant to the United Nations, was featured in a photo in Ebony magazine in 1991. Thurgood Marshall, the first black American to serve on the Supreme Court, is shown with his hand on Montero's shoulder.

Laurie Montero remembers her father as being a very social man with lots of friends.

"He had a lot of charisma," she said. "He was really funny."

Growing up in an interracial family wasn't much of a problem for Montero, who went to a private school that had black students.

"I wasn't aware that it was a big deal when I was growing up," she said.

Several of the students who came over from Africa lived at various times in the Montero household when she was a child.

In a 1962 article in the New York Post on Frank Montero, there is a brief mention of his daughter: "Montero's African visits figured in his daughter's class recently when the teacher asked her students to discuss that continent. 'My father goes to Africa,' said one boy, 'to shoot animals from a car.' But Laurie Montero's reply was: 'My daddy goes to Africa to say hello to people.'"

Like her father, Laurie Montero has been active in social causes. She worked in the federal Women, Infants and Children program and has volunteered in peace movements and anti-war groups.

Montero also has been a whitewater rafting guide, a passion she developed after her father went down the Grand Canyon when she was younger.

She plans on writing Obama a letter explaining the unusual connection they have and she's hoping for a chance to meet the senator.

"I'd love to shake his hand and say hello for three seconds," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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