IT WAS the kind of heart-rending family reunion on which Oprah Winfrey built her television career.
But yesterday it was the billionaire media tycoon’s turn to be reunited – with the long-lost sister that her mother had sent for adoption almost 50 years ago. Winfrey used her eponymous television show yesterday to reveal the family secret she said she had been keeping since October, the discovery of a half-sister, Patricia, living just an hour and half away.
“It was one of the greatest surprises of my life,” Winfrey said.
The host was nine years old and living with her father in Nashville when Patricia was born. She had not even known her mother was pregnant.
On yesterday’s show, an emotional Winfrey introduced the woman she identified only as Patricia, explaining how her years-long search for her birth family culminated in their first meeting at Thanksgiving last year.
Patricia was put into care shortly after she was born and lived in foster homes until she was adopted at the age of seven. When she was 17, she fell pregnant with a daughter, Aquarius, and then six years later had a son, Andre. The single mother had to work two jobs to provide for her children.
In 2007, Patricia happened to see a story on the television news about a woman named Vernita Lee, who was talking about a son, Jeffrey, who died in 1989, and a daughter, Pat, who had died in 2003. The information matched details in her adoption records. Furthermore, Ms Lee was Winfrey’s mother.
“The hair on the back of my neck stood up,” Patricia said.
However, Ms Lee refused to meet, even when confronted with DNA evidence from her own niece, who Patricia had contacted in desperation. It was only when Winfrey’s researchers looked into the claim that Patricia’s birth mother finally broke down and admitted the truth. The half-sisters were eventually reunited at their mother’s house in Milwaukee.
“It was a Beloved moment,” Winfrey said, referring to the Toni Morrison novel in which a daughter comes back from the dead. Home video shows the two in a long embrace.
Winfrey said she was particularly stunned by the news because although Patricia had known since 2007 that the two were related, she never attempted to contact the media for help. “She never once thought to sell the story,” Winfrey said.
“Family business should be handled by family,” Patricia said. “It couldn’t be handled by anyone else. That’s not fair.”