Oprah Winfrey’s Mother, Vernita Lee, Passed Away on Thanksgiving at Age 83

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Vernita Lee, mother of the famously influential TV star, media mogul, and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, has died at age 83.

Several sources reported the news, though TMZ was the first to confirm it. Lee was laid to rest soon after her passing at a private family funeral.

Oprah and her Mother
Harpo, Inc. via TMZ

Official Statements

“The family of Vernita Lee are saddened to share of her passing on November 22, 2018 at her home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” said a spokesperson for Winfrey. Lee was born in Mississippi on May 2, 1935, making her 83 years old.

She was survived by her daughters, Winfrey and her half-sister, Patricia Amanda Fay Lee, as well as several grandchildren. She was preceded in death by two of her children. Her son, Jeffrey Lee, died in 1989; her daughter, Patricia Lee Lloyd died in 2003.

Peace and Comfort

Winfrey later released another statement in response to the outpouring of support received by the family.

“Thank you all for your kind words and condolences regarding my mother Vernita Lee’s passing,” Winfrey said. “It gives our family great comfort knowing she lived a good life and is now at Peace.”

Winfrey was not with Lee when she died. She was in Santa Barbara, California celebrating Thanksgiving with former students of the school she opened in 2007 in South Africa.

Oprah’s Relationship with her Mother

Winfrey spent the first six years of her life living with her grandmother in Mississippi. She later bounced back and forth between living with her mother in Wisconsin and father in Tennessee. As a child, Winfrey also suffered from abuse, ran away from home, and became pregnant at just 14-years-old.

It was revealed on a 2011 episode of Winfrey’s show that she also had a half-sister. Patricia Amanda Fay Lee had been put up for adoption by her mother in 1963.

Winfrey has, on several occasions, talked about having a fraught relationship with her mother. However, she did seek to repair their strained beginnings and later made peace with her mother’s failings.

“You’ve got to meet people where they are and love them at the level that they can receive it,” she told Bishop T.D. Jakes during a 2013 episode of Oprah’s Life Class. “You have in your own mind what a mother should be and what you wanted your mother to be—and in many cases, your mothers and your fathers can’t be what your ideal is.”