Oprah’s mother has passed at 83.

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The sad news first came from Oprah’s niece, Alisha Hayes, who posted that Vernita Lee passed on Thanksgiving Day. The news was not confirmed by the Winfrey family until today. Vernita was born in 1935 in Mississippi. She gave birth to Oprah at the age of 19. The mother and daughter had a rocky relationship because she could not raise her daughter at the time. Lee moved to Milwaukee to work as a housemaid and Oprah was raised by her paternal grandmother.

When Oprah moved to live with her mother at 6 years old, their interactions were not embracive. They were strangers to each other.


“I was asking the question, what is a mother?” said Winfrey. “What are you supposed to feel about your mother? Eventually the relationship began to foster and Oprah brought her mother, Vernita on her talk show in 1990. After retiring from her job in the hospital, Oprah paid for her to live in a luxury condo and gave her a stipend of $5k a month.

Vernita had another daughter in 1963 but gave her up for adoption. The two were able to reconnect with her long-lost sister after 47 years. The media executive paid for her sister, Patricia’s, college education.

We will continue to keep Oprah and her family in our thoughts and prayers.

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