Vernita Lee, the mother of TV personality and media mogul Oprah Winfrey, died at the age of 83, according to reports on Nov. 26.
Oprah’s niece, Alisha Hayes, wrote that Lee died on Thanksgiving Day, and her family recently confirmed her death, TMZ reported.
Oprah Winfrey's mother Vernita Lee dies on Thanksgiving Day https://t.co/887WrCtzpX
— Daily Mail Celebrity (@DailyMailCeleb) November 26, 2018
“The family of Vernita Lee are saddened to share of her passing on November 22, 2018, at her home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was 83 years old. Born May 2, 1935, she is survived by her daughters Oprah Winfrey and Patricia Amanda Faye Lee, grandchildren Alisha Hayes, Chrishaunda Lee Perez, Aquarius Lofton and Andre Brown and great-grandchildren Jaxon Praise Perez, Chai Theresa Perez, Donovan Hayes and Trinity Hayes. She was predeceased by son Jeffrey Lee (1960-1989) and daughter Patricia Lee Lloyd (1959-2003). Private funeral services have been held. Memorial donations in Vernita’s name may be made to Feeding America,” an obituary reads, Fox News reported.
Lee was born in 1935 in Mississippi and gave birth to Oprah in 1954. The report notes she couldn’t raise Oprah because she moved to Wisconsin to work as a housekeeper, leaving Oprah to be raised by her maternal grandmother. She moved to Milwaukee at age 6 to live with her mother, whom she didn’t know.
“I suddenly land in a place that’s completely foreign to me. I don’t know anybody. I don’t really even know my mother,” Oprah said of the childhood move, Newsweek reported. “I walked into that space feeling completely alone and abandoned.”
Oprah said her relationship with her mother was always rough. “I was asking the question … what is a mother? What are you supposed to feel about your mother?” she asked. Meanwhile, she was abused by a cousin and an uncle while she lived with her mother, the TMZ article noted.
“I remember the first night entering into the house and being told that I wouldn’t be able to sleep with my mother, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep inside the house. But there was a little foyer-porch before you actually got inside the house; I was put outside to sleep there,” Oprah also said in another interview. “I later realized it was because of the color of my skin; my mother was boarding with this very light-skinned black woman who could have passed for white. I could tell instantly when I walked in the room that she didn’t like me, and it was because of the color of my skin.”
“I remember praying on my knees the very first night I had been removed from my grandmother,” she added.
A spokesperson for Oprah said her mother was already laid to rest, People magazine reported.
Lee is survived by Oprah and her other daughter, Patricia Amanda Faye Lee. Vernita had a son, named Jeffrey, who died in 1989 from AIDS. Another one of her children died in 2003.
“I’m a Christian lady, and if you’re a Christian person, it helps you to deal with situations like that,” she said of dealing with the deaths of her two children, People reported.
Other details about Lee’s death, including the cause, are not clear.