9 powerful men talking about what their mothers mean to them

As we pause to celebrate moms everywhere, read what some of the world’s most influential men have said about their mothers


With Mother’s Day upon us, we thought it would be nice to take a look at some of the most prominent world leaders and influential cultural figures and see what they have had to say about their mothers, and how they shaped the men they’ve become. Last month, at the Women in the World Summit, our flagship annual event, Justin Trudeau spoke with Tina Brown about the impact his mother, author and speaker Margaret Trudeau, had on him as a young boy and now as Canada’s prime minister. His answer was thoughtful and insightful, and made us wonder what other people who have spoken publicly about their mothers have said. We’ve put together a list of nine leaders, entertainers and businessmen and some of the telling thoughts they’ve shared about their mothers over the years. And on Mother’s Day, we join all of you in paying tribute to moms everywhere. They truly make us who we are.

Justin Trudeau on Margaret Trudeau

Justin Trudeau is congratulated by his mother Margaret after being named the new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada in Ottawa April 14, 2013. (REUTERS/Blair Gable)

At the 8th Annual Women in the World New York Summit, Tina Brown asked Justin Trudeau about his mother and how she may have influence his feminism. Here’s what the “world’s new liberal super hero” had to say about his mom:

“Over the course of the early parts of my political career, people always used to say — people say it less now — they used to say, ‘Oh, he’s just his mother’s son,’ as a way of dismissing me. And every time I’d say, ‘Oh, yes, thank you! I’m so proud of that.’” He added, “Her strength, her sense of justice and her brilliance has shone through as mother all her life. I’m incredibly proud to be her son.” Watch his remarks and the rest of the interview below.


Richard Branson on Eve Branson

Richard Branson and his mother Eve. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AltaMed)

Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group and noted daredevil got his love of adventure and innovation from his mother, Eve Branson. “She was incredibly supportive, lots of love, but every opportunity she had, she would push us to the limits,” Branson told Business Insider in an interview last year. “She did quite a lot of adventurous things herself,” he said about his mother, who has piloted glider planes, parachuted, and was one of the first flight attendants on a jet airliner. “And I think she sort of expected it of her sons, so I had a lot to live up to. I think I soon realized that if I were to satisfy her wishes for her son, I had to do some pretty extraordinary things in my life.” His mother has even participated in some of Branson’s adventures. Just last year, the celebrated entrepreneur took his 92-year-old mother on a “1,500-mile bike ride from the north of Italy to the south of Italy,” while she followed by car with the grandkids.

Pope Francis on Regina Maria Sivori

Pope Francis and his mother Regina Maria Sivori (Getty Images / family photo)

During a speech to a general audience, Pope Francis once reflected on the helpful spiritual advice he received from his mother. The pontiff recalled a time when, as a priest in Argentina, a young man who was “all modern with tattoos” approached him seeking counsel on a “big, difficult problem.”

“So I told my mother about this and my mother said to me, ‘Go to the Virgin Mary and she will tell you what you must do,’” he recounted. “Here was a woman who had the gift of counsel. She did not know how to solve her son’s problems but she indicated the right way: ‘Go to Our Lady and she’ll tell you.’ This is the gift of counsel. Do not say ‘Do this.’ Let the Spirit speak. And that woman — humble, simple — gave her son the truest, most beautiful advice,” he said, adding that it helped the man figure out what to do. “I did not have to say a word. It all came from my mother, the Virgin Mary and the young man. This is the gift of counsel. You mothers who have this gift, ask for this gift for your children; the gift of being able to counsel your children. It is a gift from God.”

Pope Francis has often spoken powerfully about the importance of mothers, calling them “the strongest antidote to our individualistic and egotistic tendencies, to our lack of openness and our indifference,” during a celebration of the feast of the Holy Mother of God on January 1, 2017.  “A society without mothers would not only be a cold society, but a society that has lost its heart, lost the ‘flavor of family.’ A society without mothers would be a merciless society, one that has room only for calculation and speculation. Because mothers, even at the worst times, are capable of testifying to tenderness, unconditional self-sacrifice and the strength of hope,” he added.

Kanye West on Donda West

Author Donda West and her son, hip-hop performer, Kanye West in 2007. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

Rapper Kanye West had a famously close relationship with his mother, Donda, an English professor who died after complications of plastic surgery in 2007. She is referenced in several of his songs, he named his non-profit and creative company after her and even announced a video game that depicts his mom traveling through the gates of heaven.

After her death in 2007, he paid tribute to her onstage during a show in Brussels, telling fans, “There’s nothing that she loved more than to come to the shows and scream louder than any fan, because she was my first fan that was screaming before anybody else, and my first manager.” He added, “If she was here, she would tell me to ‘get on that stage and kill it, dawg!’ That was her favorite word: dawg. She would tell me to go on this Glow in the Dark Tour and, ‘Take over the world and be number one like I taught you to be, baby.’” A year later, he appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show and explained how his life had changed since her passing. “She really supported me and she always wanted me to be the best that I could be and not get hung up on the small things. So, with her not being here to try and talk me into doing things, I just try do things she would want me to do,” he said. Below, see him performing a duet with Donda.


Stephen Colbert on Lorna Colbert

Stephen Colbert holding a photo of his mother, Lorna. (YouTube).

Late-night host Stephen Colbert suffered an unimaginable family tragedy at the age of 10 when his father and two older brothers died in a plane crash in North Carolina. He always stayed very close with his mother, Lorna Colbert, who passed away in 2013, at a time when he was the host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. After spending a week off the air following her death, Colbert returned and delivered a touching eulogy to his mother, sharing the story of how his parents met. “She met my father James at age 12 at cotillion and she liked him, but she didn’t want him to know how much, so she would make her friends ride their bikes all the way across town to pass by his house, but then she’d never look to see if he was in the front yard, which of course drove her friends crazy. And evidently, she drove my father crazy because they married and had 11 children,” he told the audience.

“She made a very loving home for us,” he continued. “No fight between siblings could end without hugs and kisses, although hugs never needed a reason in her house (…) She knew more than her share of tragedy, losing her brother and her husband and three of her sons,” he said. “But her love for her family and her faith in God somehow gave her the strength not only to go on but to love life without bitterness and instill in all of us a gratitude for every day we have together.”

“We were the light of her life, and she let us know it ’til the end,” he added. Below, see a highlight of Colbert’s poignant tribute.


Barack Obama on Ann Dunham

Barack Obama and his mother, Ann Dunham.

President Barack Obama had tremendous respect and admiration for his mother, Ann Dunham, whom he recalled fondly in his memoir Dreams from My Father, where he credited her lessons on the “power of love” for laying the foundation of his many achievements. He described his mother, who gave birth to him when she was 18 years old and later moved to Indonesia, leaving him with his grandparents in Hawaii for most of his childhood as an “eccentric in many ways” and “somebody who was hungry for adventure and skeptical of convention. But she loved the heck out of her kids.”

“For all the ups and downs of our lives, there was never a moment where I didn’t feel as if I was special, that I was not just this spectacular gift to the world,” he told his former chief strategist David Axelrod on his podcast The Axe Files. “In some ways, by the time I was 12, 13, she’s interacting with me almost like a friend as well as a parent,” he explained. “I didn’t always necessarily handle that well. It’s not sort of a recipe for ideal parenting. But what I did learn was that unconditional love makes up for an awful lot, and I got that from her.” Ann Dunham died in 1995, a year before Obama won his first election to the Illinois state Senate.

Joe Biden on Jean Biden

Joe Biden and his mother Jean during an election night gathering in Grant Park on November 4, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. (Getty Images)

Another politician who often looked to his mother for guidance is Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden. Even though she initially feared that he would “ruin his reputation” as a young lawyer by running for office, she eventually threw her support behind him and “would do anything” for him. After Biden was chosen as Barack Obama’s running mate, he paid tribute to her at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. “My mother’s creed is the American creed: No one is better than you,” he said. “Everyone is your equal, and everyone is equal to you. My parents taught us to live our faith, and to treasure our families. We learned the dignity of work, and we were told that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough.” Biden also said his mother taught him important lessons on honor and loyalty. “When I got knocked down by guys bigger than me, and this is the God’s truth, she sent me back out the street and told me, ‘Bloody their nose so you can walk down the street the next day.’ And that’s what I did.”

Bill Gates on Mary Gates

Bill Gates and his mother, Mary. (Getty Images / Twitter)

Bill Gates’ mother was an impressive businesswoman in her own right. In Seattle, she served as the director of several companies, including First Interstate Bancorp, U.S. West Inc., and KIRO-TV of Seattle. She was the first woman to serve as a director of First Interstate Bank, the first to serve as the president of the King County’s United Way and the first woman to lead the United Way of America. Without her, the tech titan might never have started his revolutionary computer company. His mother was instrumental in getting him the contract that led to a lucrative relationship with IBM, The New York Times reported, when Microsoft was just starting out. She also inspired an indelible part of her son’s legacy, his philanthropy, as Bill Gates explained when delivering the commencement speech at Harvard in 2007.

“My mother, who was filled with pride the day I was admitted here — never stopped pressing me to do more for others. A few days before my wedding, she hosted a bridal event, at which she read aloud a letter about marriage that she had written to Melinda. My mother was very ill with cancer at the time, but she saw one more opportunity to deliver her message, and at the close of the letter she said, ‘From those to whom much is given, much is expected.’” Mary Gates passed away a few months after Bill and Melinda’s wedding, in 1994.

Donald Trump on Mary MacLeod Trump

Donald Trump with his mother, Mary. (Twitter)

Perhaps no one on the world stage right now has a more fraught relationship with women than U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump has been surrounded by women his entire life — married to three different women, the father of two daughters (one of whom works in his administration) and has hired many women over the years, some of whom have spoken out on what he was like as a boss — yet women occupy just a fraction of the jobs in his administration and he’s enacted some policies that are decidedly unfriendly to women. Trump at various times has ruminated on arguably the most influential woman in his life, his mother Mary MacLeod Trump. Over the years he’s discussed her in interviews, wrote about her in his books and, naturally, posted about her on Twitter, providing insight not only into his relationship with his mother but his entire outlook on women in general.

In his 1987 book The Art of the Deal, Trump credited his mother for inspiring his signature bravado. “Looking back, I realize now that I got some of my sense of showmanship from my mother,” Trump wrote, according to The New Yorker. “She always had a flair for the dramatic and grand. She was a very traditional housewife, but she also had a sense of the world beyond her.”

Ten years later, in a subsequent book, Trump admitted that he’s had difficulties with women in his life, and speculated that those difficulties were an outgrowth of the relationship with his mother. “Part of the problem I’ve had with women has been in having to compare them to my incredible mother, Mary Trump,” he wrote. “My mother is smart as hell.”

In an interview with The New York Times during the presidential campaign, Trump, returning to the theme, waxed nostalgic about his mother’s role in the family as a stay-at-home mom and housewife, which enabled his father to focus on his budding real estate empire.

“She was an ideal woman,” Trump declared. It was a theme he echoed again when singing the praises of his mother’s meatloaf. “I loved my mother and I loved her cooking … and, she was a real beauty!” Trump once told Amy Ephron’s One for the Table website. Her beauty is another characteristic he’s repeatedly commented on, as seen below in a 2014 post on Twitter. In another tweet the previous year, Trump praised her wisdom.


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