Vernita Lee has died at the age of 83. The mother of Oprah Winfrey sadly passed on Thanksgiving day. Here’s everything we know and five facts about Vernita Lee.
Vernita Lee, the mother of Oprah Winfrey, has died at the age of 83. Oprah’s niece, Alisha Hayes, posted that Lee died on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, and the family confirmed her death soon after. The cause of death has not yet been announced. A private funeral service was reportedly held, and the family directed memorials to Feeding America in Lee’s name. As our thoughts are with Winfrey and the rest of Lee’s friends and family, here’s five fast facts about Lee.
1. Lee, a Mississippi native, was born in 1935. — Lee and Vernon Winfrey had their first child, Oprah Gail Winfrey, on a farm in Mississippi in 1954. Lee and Vernon separated shortly after Oprah was born, and she moved to Milwaukee to work as a housemaid. As a result, she couldn’t raise Oprah, according to TMZ. Instead, Oprah was raised by her maternal grandmother. The fact that Oprah never really knew her mother in the early years of her life caused a strain on their relationship, or lack there of, at the time. Numerous biographies also state that Lee wanted to name her daughter “Orpah,” but people kept mispronouncing it so much that she became known as Oprah.”
2. Lee and Winfrey had a tumultuous relationship throughout their lives. — When Oprah turned six, she moved to Milwaukee to live with her mom. She has admitted that her relationship with her mother was rocky. “I was asking the question … what is a mother? What are you supposed to feel about your mother?”, Oprah once said. However, her relationship with her mother was eventually repaired. Lee even appeared on Oprah’s talk show in 1990.
Vernita Lee [left] on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ in 2015.
3. She has admitted that Winfrey’s fame took her a while to get used too. — “It used to be very tough for me to answer all of the questions they would ask,” she said in an interview  about getting media attention because of her daughter. “I don’t like to cut anybody short or anything, but now I’ve gotten used to it more and it doesn’t bother me.” Lee later gushed over her daughter, saying, “I loved her the way that she loves people now.” Lee also added that one of her proudest moments was when Oprah starred in The Color Purple.
4. Lee left behind a bunch of grandchildren. — She is survived by Winfrey and Patricia Amanda Faye Lee and grandchildren Alisha Hayes, Chrishaunda Lee Perez, Aquarius Lofton and Andre Brown, as well as great-grandchildren Jaxon Praise Perez, Chai Theresa Perez, Donovan Hayes and Trinity Hayes.
5. Lee has lost two children. — She had a child in 1963, Oprah’s half-sister Patricia, and gave her up for adoption. The two reconnected later in life. Oprah had never met Patricia, until 2010. Oprah later paid for her college education. Lee had a son, Jeffrey, who reportedly died in from AIDS in 1989. She once credited faith for pulling her through the difficult times. “I am a Christian lady and if you’re a Christian person it helps you to deal with situaiton like that,” she said during an interview in May 2007.