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Vernon Winfrey: Oprah Winfrey’s Father Who ‘Saved’ Her

Dayna Remus
Jul 12, 2022
09:45 A.M.
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Vernon Winfrey, Oprah's father, was a man determined to ensure that his daughter grew up disciplined and with a work ethic. Not only did he save her from what could have been a horrendous life path, but he created a base she could use to work her way up into the icon she is today.

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Taking to Instagram this week, Oprah Winfrey shared a clip with her followers where she was in the middle of throwing a celebration in honor of her father, Vernon Winfrey. A sign behind her read, "Vernon Winfrey Appreciation Day."

She and Gayle King toured around the festivities and explored the variations of food they had laid out from burgers, chicken, and more. Her father was sitting among guests in the backyard.

Barbara Winfrey, Stedman Graham, Vernon Winfrey and Oprah Winfrey at the opening of Charlie's War at the Nashville Film Festival on May 2, 2003, in Nashville Tennessee. | Source: Getty Images

Barbara Winfrey, Stedman Graham, Vernon Winfrey and Oprah Winfrey at the opening of Charlie's War at the Nashville Film Festival on May 2, 2003, in Nashville Tennessee. | Source: Getty Images

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Vernon had still not seen the sign with his name on it and was unaware that it was a celebration for him. Instead, he was under the impression that it was a Fourth of July get-together but would soon find out that it was much more. Oprah's Instagram clip caption read:

"Giving my father his 'flowers' while he’s still well enough to smell them. Happy 4th of July as you gather with your family and friends. Remember to celebrate each other. 💐"

A big reason why Oprah threw this celebratory day is that her father has cancer. So, as she said in her Instagram clip, she wanted her and those close to her father to "celebrate him while he can receive the joy."

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Oprah Winfrey promoting OWN, her forthcoming cable channel, on April 8, 2010, in New York. | Source: Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey promoting OWN, her forthcoming cable channel, on April 8, 2010, in New York. | Source: Getty Images

VERNON WINFREY NEVER KNEW WITH CERTAINTY IF HE WAS OPRAH'S BIOLOGICAL DAD

After leaving the army, Vernon arrived in Nashville but soon managed to make a name out of himself. He became a barber in 1964 and opened up his shop with an attached store that sells various goods such as diapers, cigarettes, and pop. He became a cornerstone of his community, elected twice as a member of Nashville's Metro Council.

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Oprah's dad and her mom Vernita Lee were only intimate once, and according to Oprah herself, he only found out about his daughter when he received a letter in the mail. All it said, she claimed, was, "Send money. You have a daughter." Vernon did so without question and without proof that this mysterious child was biologically related to him.

Vernon Winfrey cuts Henray Ray's hair at a Nashville barbershop that is owned by Vernon, in Nashville. | Source: Getty Images

Vernon Winfrey cuts Henray Ray's hair at a Nashville barbershop that is owned by Vernon, in Nashville. | Source: Getty Images

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OPRAH ONCE CONFESSED THAT HER FATHER SAVED HER

Oprah jumped between parents from a young age but finally and permanently, at age 14, moved away from her mom in Milwaukee. She was sent to live with her father in Nashville, who ensured she was disciplined and pushed her to work hard. As she expressed:

“When I was in Milwaukee, I was trapped in a world where I could see how dire it was,. Had I not gotten out of Milwaukee, nothing would have been the same. I do believe I would have been dead at 56. I believe I would have been 437 lbs. I believe I would have had diabetes. I would have had high blood pressure. I would have suffocated knowing that things could have been different.”

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After Oprah's show became famous, her father would put it on the television while working in the barbershop to watch his daughter along with his customers. He and his wife Zelma Winfrey are, of course, both proud of Oprah.

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However, it doesn't surprise them as they always knew she would be successful, especially with how they raised her, constantly pushing her to do better and expect more of herself. As Oprah said:

"When my father took me, it changed the course of my life. He saved me. He simply knew what he wanted and expected. He would take nothing less."

During her time under her dad's roof, he told her that getting 'C's' at school was unacceptable. She was also made to write book reports as extra homework. This all set her up for her work ethic that would help her soar into the talk show world, interviewing people from the likes of Whitney Houston, Tom Cruise, and even Nelson Mandela.

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OPRAH HAD A COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP WITH HER MOTHER, VENITA LEE

Venita Lee was born in 1985 in the Deep South, where she eventually became a housekeeper. She relocated to Milwaukee and left Oprah with her mom Hattie Mae Lee when the future talk show titan was born.

Her grandmother looked after her until she was six, but Oprah wasn't Lee's only child. She had four children, but tragically, two of them died; Christina claimed her faith helped her deal with the grief.

You May Also Like: Claire Stoermer: Who Is Zendaya's Mother?

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Before she permanently moved in with her father at 14 years old, Oprah jumped around. At six years old, she moved in with her mother but then stayed with her father at 12, moving back to her mom due to sexual abuse from close family friends.

She began to act out when she moved back with her mom because her mother was incredibly busy with work and didn't have time to give her the attention and care she needed as a child. By 14 years old, she moved back with her dad.

The two had no contact until Oprah rose to fame, and although their relationship was complicated, Oprah always appeared to extend goodwill to her mother. In 2018, at 83 years old, Lee passed away.

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