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Oprah Winfrey's family secret: A half-sister, Patricia

January 24, 2011 | 10:16 am

Oprah Winfrey has a sister Oprah Winfrey has a half-sister, the talk-show host announced Monday, introducing the Milwaukee woman only as Patricia and calling the turn of events "the miracle of all miracles."

It was a years-long search that led Patricia, who was born in 1963 and given up for adoption, to a seat on her famous half-sister's talk show. Oprah, born in 1954, was living with her father at the time and said she didn't even know her mom was pregnant.

Vernita Lee, the women's mother, said she never told Oprah about Patricia "because I thought it was a terrible thing for me to do, that I had done, gave up my daughter when she was born." Adoption documents showed that Lee didn't think she could get off welfare if she kept the baby girl.

Patricia had researched her adoption and was told in 2007 that her birth mother had been contacted and did not want to meet her; coincidentally she saw a local TV interview that day with Lee and realized then and in the days that followed that family details matched up in a way that meant she could be related to Oprah.

"She never once thought to sell the story," Oprah said. Patricia instead managed to contact Winfrey's niece, and after a DNA test proved those two were related, it was only a matter of time before the  half-sisters would meet. Oprah learned of the news before a show in October.

"Family business should be handled by family," Patricia said, as to why she didn't contact the press, even after she struck out a few times trying to contact her mother. "It couldn't be handled by anyone else. That's not fair. It wouldn't be fair to you."

Stedman Graham drove Oprah to Milwaukee to meet Patricia on Thanksgiving Day, and the host shared video footage of the meeting with her audience.

In announcing that her show would wrap in 2011, Winfrey promised "we are going to knock your socks off."

Uh, you think? Does the Australia trip even hold a candle to this surprise? And, hey, Barbara Walters — you missed a question.


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— Christie D'Zurilla

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo: Oprah Winfrey at the Women's Conference in Long Beach on Oct. 26. Credit: Jonathan Alcorn / Bloomberg.