Oprah Winfrey has been teasing about a big family secret that she would reveal on her show yesterday, and she did not disappoint: Oprah introduced her heretofore-unknown half-sister, Patricia.
Welcoming single mother of two Patricia to an emotional reunion on her daytime talk show, Winfrey said her mother Vernita Lee gave birth to a sister in 1963 when Oprah was 9 and kept the birth a secret, giving the baby up for adoption.
“Imagine my shock just a few months ago, at the end of October, when I found out I have another sister living just 90 minutes away,” Winfrey said.
“For the most part my life has been an open book and on the show I think I’ve seen about everything. And I thought nothing could surprise me anymore, but let me tell you I was wrong,” she told viewers.
Patricia, whose last name was not revealed, said she had been raised in foster homes since age 7.
Patricia said she had tried years ago to learn the identity of the woman who gave her up for adoption, and only started to try again a few years ago at the insistence of her two adult children, who also appeared on Monday’s show.
Patricia said she feared her search would be fruitless after she got a telephone call from the state adoption agency, which reported that her birth mother had been contacted and did not wish to meet her.
But, coincidentally, on the local news that day, she saw a story about Winfrey’s mother, who described how two of her children had died. Those details matched information Patricia had seen in adoption papers, which indicated she had two sisters and a brother, and that only the older sister was alive.
Winfrey’s mother, Vernita Lee, also disclosed that one of the deceased children was named Patricia.
“The hairs on the back of my neck stood up,” Patricia said. “Because I knew one of my siblings and I shared the same name.”
Later, she found more details that matched, including the fact that Winfrey was born in 1954, the same year as the woman Patricia knew was her surviving sibling.
Patricia said she first learned she was Winfrey’s half sister in 2007, but kept it a secret because she knew it would create a media frenzy.
“She never once thought to sell the story,” Winfrey said, describing how she felt betrayed by other relatives who sought publicity.
Winfrey recalled how her other sister revealed to the press years ago that Winfrey had become pregnant at 14 and had had a baby when she was a teenager. The baby, Winfrey has said, died shortly after birth. And she talked about putting her sister in rehab twice for drug addiction, but that her sister ultimately passed away.
The discovery is “the miracle of all miracles,” Winfrey told her audience.
Winfrey, who said DNA tests confirmed that she and Patricia are half-sisters, met with Patricia and their mother Lee in a pre-recorded segment of the show.
Lee, who recently suffered a minor stroke, said she never told Winfrey about her half-sister, “because I thought it was a terrible thing for me to do, that I had done, gave up my daughter when she was born.”
Winfrey said documents from the girl’s birth reveal that Lee gave up the baby for adoption because she did not think she could get off welfare if she kept the child.
“I made the decision to give her up because I wasn’t able to take care of her. So when I left the hospital, I told the nurse I wasn’t going to keep the baby.”
Patricia said she didn’t consider revealing that she and Winfrey were half-sisters to anyone but Winfrey, explaining that she did not want to hurt Winfrey.
“Family business should be handled by family,” Patricia said. “It couldn’t be handled by anyone else. That’s not fair. It wouldn’t be fair to you.”