The Return of the Nanny

Grace Rwaramba, far left, nanny to singer Michael Jackson's children

Paris Jackson, left, Prince Michael Jackson, right,

and Prince Michael Jackson II

From left: Alastair Grant / AP; Mark J. Terrill / Pool / AP

Source: http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1911880,00.html

An enigmatic woman in Michael Jackson's inner circle

is re-emerging just as the battle over the guardianship

and paternity of his kids continues.

Grace Rwaramba — the Rwandan nanny of

Prince Michael I, 12; Paris Michael Katherine,

11; and Prince Michael II (known as Blanket),

7 — is the woman Jackson insiders describe as

the most maternal personality the children have known.

She left Jackson's employ, perhaps dismissed,

last year but is now staging a comeback that may be

key to the fate of the three young Jacksons.

Indeed, her return to the side of the children

— and the Jackson clan — may reinforce, at least

in the public eye, the family's claim to being

the best guarantors of the children's well-being.

Rwaramba worked for Jackson for 17 years, first

as his secretary and then, after the children arrived,

as their nanny.

According to sources, Rwaramba is resuming

the work she did throughout the children's lives.

Her job ended abruptly in 2008 when

she was allegedly fired by Jackson for

yet-established reasons.

Since his death, however, sources say

Rwaramba has resumed child-caring duties

at the Jackson clan's Encino, Calif.,

compound and was seen taking the children

to Jehovah's Witness classes.

(See photos: "A Post-Michael Guide to the Jackson Family.")

Introduced to Jackson by his friend Deepak Chopra,

Rwaramba was such a constant in the singer's life

that there were even rumors that

they were secretly married.

But according to documents filed in

Nevada's Clark County,

she was married to her first husband

during the majority of her employment

with Jackson and married her second husband,

Joseph Kisembo, in December 2008.

There were other, almost Svengali-like rumors.

"I hear some odd things about her

— this woman in the background with

all of this power, flexing her muscles,"

says former Jackson spiritual adviser Firpo Carr.

"That's not the Grace I know.

Unless she has this other secret life

I don't know about," says Carr.

"She is one of the humblest people

I have been around."

Others are sensitive to the pivotal position

Rwaramba occupied in Jackson's life.

"You have to be aware of the most powerful

nanny in the universe," says

a former Jackson confidant.

"She was the gatekeeper for Michael,

and she wielded that power.

She absolutely did.

"(Read "Paris Jackson's Heartfelt Goodbye.")

Her influence on the children was undeniable.

"Grace was like the mother,

and Michael was the father,"

says Jackson friend and filmmaker

Bryan Michael Stoller, who often visited


"The only person I saw get close to the kids

besides Michael was Grace."

Rwaramba returned at their time of crisis.

The actor Mark Lester, star of the movie

musical Oliver! and godfather

to Jackson's children, spoke to her soon

after the singer's sudden death and

describes her as "shocked and grief stricken."

Still, Lester tells TIME, "she's a

very strong person, and she's

a tower of strength for the children.

She is the closest thing to a mother

that they have ever experienced."

While not sure if her return is permanent,

he adds, "Right now,

it's important they have some continuity."

Carr says some of the talk about Grace

came about as a result of her loyal silence

about Jackson.

In a world where former friends and

employees often sold their version of life

with Jackson to the highest tabloid bidder,

Rwaramba maintained her secrets.

(Read "Rowe Undecided on Jackson Kids Custody Battle.")

There was therefore disbelief at a story

that appeared shortly after

Jackson's June 25 death.

Britain's Sunday Times wrote a piece quoting

Rwaramba allegedly giving explosive details

about Jackson's drug use.

The story cited her attempts to curb

his addiction as the reason she was let go.

"I had to pump his stomach many times.

He always mixed so much of it,

" the paper quoted Rwaramba as saying.

"There was one period that it was so bad

that I didn't let the children see him ...

He always ate too little and mixed too much."

Rwaramba quickly put out a statement


the piece: "I don't even know how

to pump a stomach."

She said she had never spoken

to the Sunday Times: "The statements

attributed to me confirm the worst

in human tendencies

to sensationalize tragedy and

smear reputations for profit."

The incident did little to damage

her relationship with the family.

The next day, Joe Jackson,

the star's father, publicly called Rwaramba

"a good friend of the family and to the kids,"

going so far as to say a more permanent

role in their lives was under consideration.

Rwaramba was also given prime position

in the official Michael Jackson souvenir

book at the lavish public memorial.

"Thank you for entrusting me with

your precious children, my love for them

will never waver,"

she wrote in its final solo entry.

"She is totally dedicated to the children

and will do whatever it takes

to make the children happy,"

Chopra tells TIME. "She will play

a large part in those children's lives,"

says Carr.

Her work may be key as details

of Jackson's alleged drug use emerge.

Addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinksy

tells TIME that children of addicted parents

frequently suffer from a sense

of abandonment, but the caring,

"emotionally available" support that

Jackson set up could provide

a "life-saving link that might help

these children stay healthy.

I'm praying for the status quo

for these kids." In the eyes

of many Jackson watchers,

Rwaramba is that status quo.

See all of TIME's coverage of Michael Jackson's death.

See the top 10 Michael Jackson songs.

See places to honor Jackson's memory.

Source: http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1911880,00.html

By Bryan Alexander / Los Angeles
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