Oprah Winfrey's Mom, Vernita Lee, Dies on Thanksgiving at Age 83
While the rest of the country gathered around their dining tables to feast and talk about what they're grateful for, Oprah Winfrey and her family were hit with an unexpected tragedy.
Vernita Lee, the talk show host's mother, passed away on Thanksgiving Day at the age of 83, announced the family.
According to Oprah's niece, Alisha Hayes, Vernita died at her Milwaukee home, where she moved to after Oprah was born.
After meeting Vernon Winfrey, Vernita welcomed her first child in rural Mississippi at the age of 18. She named her Orpah, but because of mispronunciations, she later became known as Oprah.
On a 2013 visit to Pewaukee, Oprah discussed some aspects of her childhood and revealed that her mother was the one who taught her the importance of giving as a way to "enlarge the spirit of somebody else."
Vernita appeared on Oprah Winfrey Show a handful of times, including in 2011, when it was revealed that the daughter she gave up for adoption in 1963, Patricia, was finally found.
Vernita explained that she never told Oprah about her half-sister "because I thought it was a terrible thing for me to do ... I made the decision to give her up because I was unable to totally take care of her."
Oprah replied, "To my mother, I say, 'You can let this shame go.'"
Due to a number of reasons, Vernita wasn't able to raise Oprah for the first six years of her life. She moved to Milaukee to work as a housemaid, leaving the future Queen of Media to be cared for by her grandmother.
Oprah eventually went to live with her mother, and although it took a while for them to repair their tumultuous relationship, they became close over the last few years.
In an interview with Milwaukee local station TMJ4, Lee opened up about how she got through the deaths of two of her children.
“I’m a Christian lady, and if you’re a Christian person, it helps you to deal with situations like that,” she said.
Winfrey posted two videos on her Instagram page from Thanksgiving, including a peek at her feast. She has stayed off social media since.
In the interview, Lee said she modeled the example of giving other love, which her daughter made a career of.
“I loved her the way that she loves people now,” she said, adding that her proudest moment was in 1985 when Winfrey “did the Color Purple.”
The mogul’s mom and father Vernon Lee met once before welcoming Winfrey in 1954. Winfrey then traveled between her mom, dad and grandparent’s houses throughout her childhood.
“[Oprah’s] mother wrote me,” Vernon told PEOPLE in 1999, “and told me that, you know, the baby had just come, in a letter: what it weighed, what its name was and so forth and so on.”
She is survived by her daughters, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.