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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Oprah's Dad Didn't Know About Her Half-Sister Until Show Aired


Jan. 26 2011, Published 9:30 a.m. ET

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Oprah Winfrey’s TV audience members weren’t the only people surprised by her revelation that she has a secret half sister.

The talk show titan’s dad told that he first heard the news when it was announced on Oprah’s show Monday.

“I knew nothing about it until yesterday but it was tear-jerking to me because it felt like a ‘coming home’ actually,” Vernon Winfrey told in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

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The Nashville barber told us he was as shocked as the rest of the world when his billionaire daughter introduced Patricia, the half-sister she never knew she had until Thanksgiving of last year.

Oprah’s mother Vernita never married Vernon but sent Oprah to live with him. Vernita gave birth to Patricia on April 26, 1963 but gave up the child at birth and kept it a secret all these years.

“I knew Vernita’s two deceased children and she sent Oprah to me because she could not cope and was having a hard time,” Vernon, 78, told

“I don’t blame her  (Vernita) for giving-up Patricia because I know it was done out of love and she just wanted a better life for her.

“I intend to call Vernita and tell her to hold her head-up high because she has done nothing to feel ashamed of and she is a loving kind of person.”

Vernita did not appear on Oprah’s show Monday as the family secret became public.  Oprah aired a taped interview with Vernita who explained why she never told Oprah that she had a half sister, “I thought it was a terrible thing… what I had done, to give up my daughter when she was born.”

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Vernita says she wanted to get off welfare.  “I made the decision to give her up because I wasn’t able to take care of her,” she said. Oprah was 9 years old when Vernita gave birth to Patricia, who is now 47, has two adult children and lives in Milwaukee.

Patricia’s children, Andre and Aquarius, urged her to search for her birth mother, setting in motion the improbable discovery. After requesting her adoption papers, Patricia discovered she had two half sibling who died and that her oldest sister was alive and born in 1954. She thought her sister was still living in Tennessee. “She’s probably down there cooking up a storm and got about 10 kids.”

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Eventually, Patricia saw an article in a magazine about Oprah’s niece, Alisha who owns a Milwaukee-area restaurant called Pat’s Rib Place, named after Alisha’s mom Patricia who died in 2003. Yes, the Patricia who was searching for her mom has the same name as her half-sister who passed away.  Even more bizarre is that the living Patricia was given up for adoption at birth and Vernita never named her daughter.  It is a complete coincidence that they ended up with the same name.

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When Alisha met her aunt Patricia, she was stunned at how much Patricia resembled her mother.  Patricia, seeing the pictures of her dead half-sister Patricia on the walls of the restaurant was stunned, “Oh my God, that is me. We just look so much alike,” she said.

From there the pieces of the puzzle came together. Eventually Vernita confirmed that Patricia was indeed her daughter and Oprah was told just before Thanksgiving, 2010. On Thanksgiving day, Oprah and Stedman drove to Milwaukee to meet Patricia.

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Patricia appeared live on the Oprah show to tell her side of the story.

Oprah decided to reveal the information on her show because she said, “there’s no way with how the media works today that a story like this wouldn’t get out in the press and wouldn’t be exploited. I didn’t want that to happen because it’s true… and I wanted you to hear it from me first.”

Oprah emphasized the great respect she has for her half-sister, Patricia for  not selling her out.    She adds “as you can imagine, Patricia and I are still sorting all of this out. It’s a process…. So we’re going to be getting to know each other in the months and days and years to come.”

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Patricia previously reached out to her birth mother who refused to see her.  That same day she was rejected, Patricia saw an interview with Oprah’s mom on a local Milwaukee news program where Vernita revealed that she had two dead children who were half siblings to Oprah (who was born in 1954) and the pieces started to fall in place.

Patricia naturally was stunned at the possibility of being related to Oprah , but she wanted to be sure.  “When Patricia first discovered the connection in 2007” Oprah says, “she tried 3 times to reach Vernita, but Vernita wasn’t ready.”

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Former coal miner and councilman Vernon Winfrey, who remains close to Oprah, is happy that his daughter has found some new family.

“I’m pleased for Oprah that she discovered that she has a new half sister and I would like to meet her too,” Vernon told

“I intend to call Oprah later this evening actually to try and catch-up with her about the exciting news.”


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