“The family of Vernita Lee are saddened to share of her passing on November 22, 2018 at her home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” a spokesperson for Winfrey told HuffPost, adding that she was born on May 2, 1935.
Lee is survived by her daughters, Oprah Winfrey and Patricia Amanda Faye Lee, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The spokesperson added that she was preceded in death by her son, Jeffrey Lee (1960-1989) and daughter Patricia Lee Lloyd (1959-2003).
Lee has already been laid to rest during a private family funeral, the representative said.
Winfrey, who was raised by her grandmother in Mississippi for the first few years of her life, has spoken about her strained relationship with her mother. She reunited with Lee, where she lived in Wisconsin, after being separated from her grandmother when Winfrey was just 6 years old.
“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 in a HuffPost OWN interview. “I walked into that space feeling completely alone and abandoned.”
Lee, who worked as a housekeeper, couldn’t even let Oprah sleep inside the house where she was employed.
“I remember the first night entering into that 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,” the media mogul recalled, saying that it was because of her skin color. “There was a little foyer/porch before you actually got inside the house. I was put outside to sleep there.”
Winfrey previously released a statement about her mother and their relationship on Twitter in 2012, along with a picture of the two.
“Thank you to my mother Vernita Lee for doing the best she knew and could do in raising me,” she said.
Aside from her strained relationship that she later rekindled with her mother, Oprah also found out in 2011 that she had a half-sister, named Patricia Amanda Faye Lee, whom her mother had given up for adoption in 1963.
Oprah was just 8 years old at the time and didn’t know her mother was even pregnant.
“This, my friends, is the miracle of all miracles,” Winfrey said on her show in 2011 when she introduced her half-sister to the world, adding that Patricia “never once thought to sell the story.”