2008 Presidential Elections

Inside Obama's Family Election Celebration

11/05/2008 at 01:00 PM EST

Inside Obama's Family Election Celebration
Sitting on a sofa beside his 71-year-old mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago just after 10 p.m., with his family having broken away from the bigger returns-watching party downstairs, Barack Obama already started to hear from campaign aides that news organizations were close to calling the election for Obama, PEOPLE reports in its latest cover story, on sale Friday.

But his uncle, Steve Robinson, beat them to it. "He said, 'I told you,' " Marian Robinson tells PEOPLE. "We all had our little laugh, our little enjoyment when he said it. It was like, OK, that means it’s true."

By the time CNN made it official, Robinson adds, "Everybody was quiet. I can't tell you how subdued it was. We weren’t like the people in the stands – you know, yelling and screaming."

People had been anticipating the moment for weeks and months – if not generations. But coming into office at a time of war and global financial crisis, Obama, 47, as the 44th president, won't have the luxury of savoring his achievement for long.

"For even as we celebrate tonight," he said at his victory rally in Chicago, "we know that the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime."

But celebrate they did. After the speech, Barack and his wife, Michelle, 44, spent several hours with friends, staffers and supporters. Their daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, had been sent home after their turn on the stage.

"They're big huggers, so there's a lot of hugs, a lot of thank-yous, a lot of warmth," said one campaign aide. And Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey were on hand to show their support.

For more on Obama's family celebration, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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