Oprah Welcomes Little Sister: Talk Show Host Learns of Patricia

Initially posted at WSATA by Nordette Adams, January 24, 2011

By now you've heard the news that Oprah Winfrey has a half-sister named Patricia. Oprah did not learn of this news until late October of last year, and on Thanksgiving, she and Stedman Graham drove to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to meet Patricia.

When Oprah said last week on her show that she would reveal a family secret, I suspected it was a long-lost sibling. I figured it couldn't be a long-lost child because Oprah has been very open about being pregnant at age 14 and having a miscarriage. After all the personal trauma she's revealed to her audience over the 25 years of her show, it seemed unlikely she would keep a child hidden.

Oprah told her audience Monday that only a few people in her circle knew about Patricia. The family decided to reveal the news on the show to ensure the story was delivered factually straight from Oprah before bloggers or the tabloids got wind of it.

DNA tests and legal documentation confirm that Patricia is the daughter of Oprah's mother, Vernita Lee, who gave her up for adoption as a baby when Oprah was nine years old; however, Oprah did not live with her mother then, and so, she did not know she had another sister. She was living with her father, Vernon, who Oprah stressed today is not Patricia's father.

Despite some tabloids treating as news that Vernon Winfrey did not know about Patricia, it's understandable that he did not since Vernita Lee and Vernon Winfrey were never married. Patricia was born nine years after Oprah's father had intimate relations with her mother. Since he lived in Tennessee (and still does) and Vernita lived in Wisconsin (and still does), how would he know if no one told him? Other than Oprah's mother, only Oprah's aunt knew until Patricia found the family.

Oprah said on her show that she was impressed by Patricia's character because Patricia has known that she was Oprah's half sister since 2007, but she did not go to the media or gossip tabloids. She looks strikingly like Oprah's deceased sister of the same name, one who Oprah says betrayed her to the media, revealing that Oprah had been a pregnant teen. (Oprah calls seeing Patricia for the first time a "Beloved" moment, an allusion to a daughter coming back from the dead as in the book and movie Beloved.)

Oprah also said later that she had an epiphany and realizes now that her late sister's betrayal, which revealed a secret, freed her. She hopes that Patricia's existence being revealed will free and heal their mother, Vernita, of any guilt she has about not being able to keep Patricia.

Her late sister, Pat, had a drug problem, but Oprah said the living Patricia is like the late Pat on her best day. Her late sister's children were in the audience as well, and one of her daughters wept and nodded in agreement.

That the two sisters share the same name is a coincidence. Their mother says she did not name the child she gave up for adoption. Patricia was put up for adoption at birth but was not adopted until she was seven, and for all these years lived only miles from her and Oprah's mother before she learned she was related, according to The Oprah Show.

As the Queen of Talk welcomes Patricia into her life, she also welcomes Patricia's two children, Aquarius and Andre, as her niece and nephew.

Her staff kept this information from her until she demanded to know what her family wasn't telling her. If you watch her "Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes" show on her new OWN network, then you'll see that frequently her staff avoids giving her information or news that might result in drama.

Watch video clips and read more about Oprah meeting Patricia at Oprah.com, including a question and answer session between Oprah and her audience about building relationships with her family.

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