Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oprah and Patricia

It took a lot of effort and a number of years, but Patricia of Milwaukee finally succeeded in finding her biological family and being reunited with them.

It's not an unusual journey for an adopted individual to make. What makes Patricia's search noteworthy is that she discovered she and Oprah Winfrey have the same mother.

From the Associated Press, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Oprah Winfrey has discovered she has a half-sister - a Milwaukee woman who was given up for adoption by Winfrey's mother nearly 50 years ago, when the talk show host was eight years old.

An emotional Winfrey introduced her newly found sibling to viewers Monday and explained the woman's persistent quest to find her birth mother.

"This, my friends, is the miracle of all miracles," Winfrey said before bringing out the 48-year-old woman, who throughout the program was identified only as Patricia, with no mention of her occupation or any other details.

...When Patricia was born in Milwaukee in 1963, the young Winfrey was living with her father and did not even know her mother was pregnant, she said.

Patricia, who Winfrey said bounced from foster home to foster home until she was adopted at age 7, had given up after previous searches for her mother. But she decided to resume looking several years ago at the insistence of her grown children.

The effort seemed to hit a dead end when a woman from the Wisconsin adoption agency called to respond to her inquiries.

"She was telling me that my birth mother had called her back, and she had made the decision at that particular time that she did not want to see me," Patricia said.

Coincidentally, on the local news that day was a story about Winfrey' mother, Vernita Lee, who revealed details about two of her children who had since died. Those details, Patricia said, matched information she had seen in papers about her own adoption.

Watch TMJ4's 2007 interview with Vernita Lee.

Winfrey's mother also said that one of the deceased children had been 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 matching details, including the fact that Winfrey was born in 1954, the same year as the woman Patricia knew was her surviving sibling.

Patricia found the daughter of Winfrey's dead sister in Milwaukee, and they took a DNA test that confirmed their relationship.

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."

This really wasn't "Oprah's secret." It was her mother's secret.

It's sad Vernita Lee felt she had done something terrible by giving up her baby girl for adoption. Giving her daughter life was a very loving thing to do.

...[Winfrey] said Patricia had known since 2007 that the two were related, but never attempted to profit off her discovery or contact the press, even as she tried unsuccessfully to contact Winfrey, her mother or others in Winfrey's family.

"She never once thought to sell the story," Winfrey said, recalling how she felt betrayed by others who have sought to take advantage of their relationship with one of the largest figures in the entertainment world and one of the wealthiest women in the United States.

I'm happy that Patricia found her biological family and that they were finally willing to accept her after years of being turned away.



Patricia was born April 26, 1963, when Oprah was 9 but living with her father in Tennessee. Oprah said she finally met Patricia on Thanksgiving of last year in Milwaukee when she and boyfriend Stedman Graham drove up for the holiday.

Oprah also learned she has a nephew and niece -- Patricia's children, Andre and Aquarius.

Oprah said on Monday's show that she was touched by the fact that Patricia spent a few years trying to make contact, knowing she was related to Oprah, but did not go to the press.

"Since I have been a person known in the public, there have been few times that I've been anywhere and not been sold out," Oprah said. "There have been few times where you can bring anybody new into your life and not have that person in some way betray you or use you or take advantage of you. What is so extraordinary about Patricia and Andre and Aquarius is that they have known this secret since 2007. She had tried and tried and tried again, even wrote an e-mail to our offices back in 2007 that we tracked -- but nobody would've given me an e-mail with somebody saying, 'I'm your sister' -- had sent me an e-mail, had gone to her pastor, who contacted my mother's pastor, who then sent a letter to my mother. She tried and tried and tried again to get responses from my mother and other people in the family. She never once thought to go to the press. She never once thought to sell this story."

Patricia shares her name with Oprah's sister, Pat, who passed away in 2003. To make contact with the family, Patricia finally approached Oprah's niece Alisha at her restaurant in Milwaukee. Patricia and Alisha, who is Pat's daughter, took a DNA test that confirmed the match.

Patricia's pastor was instrumental in helping her to contact her blood relatives. He told TMJ4 that Oprah's niece was the one who was more open and helped Patricia into the family.

Given her celebrity status and wealth, I understand Oprah's hesitancy to embrace Patricia initially. However, I do feel sorry for Patricia having to struggle for years to get members of her biological family to acknowledge the connection and accept her.

Patricia seems like a wonderful woman.

What I find interesting is that Patricia never attempted to profit financially from her relation to Oprah. She didn't go the media with the story.

Oprah, on the other hand, chose to use the newfound relationship as fodder for her show. The "Oprah's secret" program was promoted for days. Wasn't Oprah, in effect, "selling the story" and profiting from it?

I don't know why Oprah handled it that way.

Nonetheless, I'm glad Patricia's journey was a success.

And I hope that Oprah learned there actually are some people, like her half-sister, who are sincere and have a good heart and value personal relationships more than all the money in the world.


KellyKimble said...

You say... "It's sad Vernita Lee felt she had done something terrible by giving up her baby girl for adoption. Giving her daughter life was a very loving thing to do." and then say "I do feel sorry for Patricia having to struggle for years to get members of her biological family to acknowledge the connection and accept her." Either they want the baby or they don't? She clearly didn't want the baby in the first place so she didn't want to acknowledge that. That is her right...Her only other option would be abortion and I don't think you would advocate that!!!

Mary said...

The first statement you quote refers to my opinion regarding Vernita Lee's feelings.

The second one deals with my reaction to Patricia's struggle.

I don't see how they back up your point.

That aside, it's true Lee chose to give up her child for adoption. But nearly 50 years later, she didn't give other family members the option of connecting with Patricia by being honest.

What's wrong with feeling sorry for Patricia?