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If They Asked: Should Oprah Give Money To Her Long-Lost Sister?

I’m introducing a new feature on DearWendy.com today called “If They Asked.” The idea is that we discuss the advice we’d helpfully offer celebs and people of note if they asked for it. Like, if Gwyneth Paltrow were to ask us how she could improve her reputation and re-endear herself to the American public, we might advise her to shut the fuck up about how hard it is for her to squeeze in five hours of exercise and manage to get her hair blown out every day. Or, if James Franco asked us if he should release a sex tape, we would tell him that yes, yes he should. After the jump, we address the big fat elephant in Oprah’s living room: should she give money to her long-lost sister?

On her show yesterday, Oprah revealed a huge family secret: she has a half-sister named Patricia whom she only learned about in November. Back in 1963, Oprah’s mother, Vernita Lee, gave Patricia up for adoption. Oprah was living with her father at the time and didn’t even know her mother was pregnant. In 2007, after years of searching for her birth mother, Patricia saw a TV interview with Vernita Lee and when information she gave coincided with what Patricia knew about her birth family, she realized she might be Oprah’s half-sister.

Can you imagine? You’re a lower-middle class woman working two jobs to support yourself and one day you’re just watchin’ TV when you realize the richest, most powerful woman in the world is probably your sister?! But to her enormous credit, Patricia never went to the media with her story. Instead, she spent years trying to reach out to her birth family — to her mother and to Oprah herself — with no luck. Finally, she was able to track down a niece and when DNA testing revealed that they were indeed related, she was finally reunited with Oprah and the rest of her birth family.

“She never once thought to sell the story,” Oprah said when she tearfully introduced Patricia to her audience on Monday’s show.

“Family business should be handled by family,” Patricia said. “It couldn’t be handled by anyone else. That’s not fair.”

So, the big question is: now that Oprah has been reunited with her half-sister, a woman who has already proven herself to be more trustworthy than most people Oprah has allowed into her inner circle, should she give her some money? Oprah’s worth billions, after all, and her sister is still working two jobs to support herself. She kept a secret that she could have sold to some media outlet for thousands — maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars. Oprah’s deceased half-sister, also named Patricia, once sold the story of Oprah’s teen pregnancy to a publication for $19,000, which devastated Oprah. But this Patricia didn’t sell her sister out like that. She kept the secret and she seems genuinely interested in forming a relationship with her birth family, which in addition to Oprah, includes their mother as well as nieces, nephews and cousins. But can a true relationship really be formed when Oprah is so filthy rich and her half-sister is financially struggling? Won’t such a drastic difference distance them?

If she asked, this is what I’d tell Oprah: give your sister a one-time chunk of money — a million bucks or something like that (pocket change to Opes). Give her enough to pay off her debts, pay off her kids’ debts, and donate a sizable amount to her church (Patricia is a very active member of her church and credits her pastor for helping her track down her birth family). Give her enough money that she’d be crazy to ask for more, so if she does, you’ll know she isn’t the genuine person she seemed to be. And if she never asks for money, you’ll know she’s provided for and that she was worthy of what you gave her initially. If nothing else, she should get something for being part of what was surely a huge ratings-boost during a pretty lackluster final season. Let’s face it, Oprah, your trip to Australia was kind of a snooze fest. A big family secret was exactly what you needed to finish your series with a bang and the one responsible should be rightfully rewarded.

What do you guys think? Should Oprah give Patricia money? If so, when and how much?

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Comments on this entry are closed.

parton_doll jdoublejj January 25, 2011, 9:42 am

I didn’t even finish reading the entire column before I fell out of my chair. Absolutely the best advice you could give to Gwyneth Paltrow. And it was a perfect use of language. It’s like you plucked the words right out of my brain. I now feel validated. Good times. Now to read the rest of the column, lol.

avatar MellaJade January 25, 2011, 9:51 am

Hey Wendy, Congrats on your new site! As to Oprah, I have to agree with your idea of the one time lump sum gift. This sister seems to be on the level – maybe Oprah will offer to send her new nieces & nephews to college or something too.

avatar Amber January 25, 2011, 9:52 am

I agree with what you said. She did help boost Oprah’s ratings and the one time lump sum would be like an appearance fee. I know if I somehow came in to millions I would want to help my family get out of debt. From what I saw on Oprah I believe that she would be content with whatever Oprah gave her and just happy to have family to share her life with.

Dear Wendy Wendy January 25, 2011, 10:05 am

I agree; her sister seemed so genuinely sweet and just really excited to have found her long-lost family more than anything else. That her birth sister is OMG Oprah is almost beside the point. Almost.

avatar baby.blanka January 25, 2011, 10:23 am

LOVE (love, love, love) the new column idea! I had to stop myself from laughing at my computer! Really looking forward to the upcoming articles as I have a feeling I will have a new favorite “mental health break” website.

avatar TheOtherMe January 25, 2011, 10:25 am

I don’t think Oprah “owes” any set amount to her (half) sister. I believe she would WANT to help her in any way that she could, financially or otherwise. I think it would be a great gift to relieve her sister of the financial stress she is currently living with so she could be more available to spend time with her family. Often times greed gets in the way of family relationships but in this case, it really doesn’t seem to be Patricia’s motive.

avatar Kaiser Söze January 25, 2011, 12:34 pm

Good points.
Good to see you here, TOM!

avatar TheOtherMe January 25, 2011, 2:32 pm

Hi & thanks ! good to see you too !

avatar AnitaBath January 25, 2011, 11:09 am

I completely agree, especially on the lump sum. I’ve been randomly thinking about this topic on my own.

I mean, Oprah gives luxury cars to complete strangers in her audience. This is her long-lost sister, it only makes sense.

avatar camille905 January 26, 2011, 12:41 pm

@Anita- That’s a very good point (the Oprah audience gifts). If I had money to give away to random strangers and a member of my family was struggling I would totally want to help them.

avatar Zoe January 25, 2011, 11:14 am

I think Oprah will do it anyway, whether she feels like she has to or not. This is Oprah, who gives away millions and millions every year–her sister will be well-taken care of and will probably earn a job or five that will earn her more on top of that. This revelation will change absolutely everything for her.

That’s so wonderful that she was so honest about the situation, too. Good people exist!

avatar Emily January 25, 2011, 11:37 am

Yes, I agree too. I think she could give her a decent amount of “normal folk” money and it wouldn’t really even affect Oprah in any way but it would have a huge benefit to Patricia. And she seems like a nice decent person who is very hardworking, as you said. I hope they can build a relationship from this – I felt like Oprah was so boggled by the whole thing, she kind of treated Patricia like any other guest on her show. But it would probably be very hard to trust ANY new person, let alone someone you just found out is your half sister.

In Oprah speak, they just need to build some bridges together and maybe they can build those with cash! ;)

avatar ladiejoy January 25, 2011, 11:39 am

How weird is it that both her sisters were Patricia? Anyway, I agree – knowing Oprah’s ethics I’d be shocked if she didn’t help her out financially. I mean come on… if I found out Oprah was my sister, I’m not gonna lie… I would hope she’d help me out though I wouldn’t actually ASK for it.

avatar delilahgem January 25, 2011, 12:38 pm

Yeah, I don’t think I could actually ASK for it either. But yeah, as much as Oprah does for strangers, you would think she’d take care of her new family.

avatar XanderTaylor January 25, 2011, 11:41 am

Awesome column! You are going to do great on your own! I think Oprah should help her financially through an annuity that will give her a set amount of income for the rest of her life. It would be great to help out any nieces & nephews as well. The comment on Gwyneth was spot on.

avatar Rachelgab January 25, 2011, 11:50 am

Knowing that Oprah supports her mother and father –who she doesn’t seem to speak too highly of, she probably will give her new sister some cash and prizes just cuz. I agree with what some others said, she definitely doesn’t owe anyone anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Patricia and her family start getting to go on some nice vacations and maybe get help with some debt or a nice Birkin bag as a birthday present.

avatar Kristen January 25, 2011, 11:58 am

I think she should give her the lump sum just like you suggested. She would give herself a bad image if she didnt. I do think she should prove that this women is ACTUALLY her 1/2 sister first so there arent a ton of “Other 1/2 brothers and sisters” coming after her

avatar camille905 January 26, 2011, 12:42 pm

Ummm….I thought she already proved that with a DNA test? Read the article a bit more closely.

avatar Allyson January 25, 2011, 12:01 pm

I wouldn’t tell Oprah to give her money – that’s so impersonal. This is a long lost sister who has never asked for anything. I’d maybe pay off her debt, buy her a house, give her a job on my set, but to flat out give her money? Just seems cold, almost like she’s paying her off to stay out of her life.

avatar Laura Matthews January 25, 2011, 12:06 pm

If it’s a lump sum, I think Oprah needs to set up some sort of fund that pays out monthly amounts, rather than one huge amount entirely available at once. Going from poverty to millions isn’t that great if you’re not already accustomed to that kind of money and attention. People will be after Patricia for money once they know who’s in her family, not to mention the tax implications. Patricia needs to be guided through the transition if it’s to be a blessing to her. Sounds like she has a strong character though, so will do fine with the wisdom and guidance of her big sister.

avatar Katy January 25, 2011, 12:11 pm

Did anyone else get cringey during the homevideo they showed of the “first meet thanksgiving” where Patricia runs over to hug, and hug, and hug, and hug Oprah and Oprah kind of seems like “dear lord get this woman off me this is too too much!” ?

Dear Wendy Wendy January 25, 2011, 1:15 pm

Yes! But I tried not to read too much into it. I’m sure it was a spectacularly strange thing to greet a long-list sister you only learned about days earlier AND have it be video taped for millions of people to watch. I really think once Oprah processes all this — and remember, Patricia has had three years to process the information — she’s going to find a true and trustworthy confidante in her sister. And for a woman in her position, that’s got to be worth a lot.

avatar AnitaBath January 25, 2011, 3:19 pm

I think, like Wendy said, she’s already mostly proven herself to be trustworthy. It seems like she tried to do all of this confidentially and didn’t sell the story or anything, it seems like it was up to Oprah to put the story out there. Oprah seems pretty excited about it, especially considering how crappy most of her family has been so far.

avatar TheFabulousmzm January 25, 2011, 12:19 pm

I have half-siblings that I’ve never met. I wonder if any of them are Oprah!

avatar Nuttin January 25, 2011, 1:12 pm

I have a sister that’s a millionaire. I wouldn’t take a dime of her money as I WOULD HAVE TO HEAR ABOUT IT FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.

Every B-day and X-mas I would hear “hey remember that cool mil I gave you. I bet I sure helped your life…blah blah blah. I think Oprah is the type who would do the same since she never stops talking about all the things she has given people.

If she offers it great, but don’t take it.

On a side note: Yes I have issues with my sister.

avatar TheGirl January 28, 2011, 10:40 am

Great point!! Oprah is totally one of those people that would constantly point out what a great thing she did and how awesome she is. I guess you have to weigh whether the monetary help is worth it or not – I would say it is, just for her kids’ sake. Take money for their college education and that’s it.

avatar HelloJello January 25, 2011, 1:39 pm

Obviously Oprah doesn’t HAVE to give anyone money, but like many other said, I would think that she would want to, at the very least ease some of the burden that her new-found sister has been experiencing. I would lean more towards paying for specific things, rather than giving her an lump sum of money. Pay off some debt, help put the nieces and nephews through school, that sort of thing, and maybe reassess later. Maybe I’m too jaded. But if Patricia is as genuine as she seems, that sort of thing would be greatly appreciated.

avatar Marie January 25, 2011, 2:37 pm

Yes, I think she should give her some money, but as a one time gift, Oprah has earned all her money via hard work, it is not some family inheritance she is keeping from her. I think $100K one time gift is sufficient, maybe buy her house or pay off the mortgage so she has somewhere to live.

avatar AnitaBath January 25, 2011, 3:53 pm

I just read this quote from Oprah on a People.com article:

“I had her to dinner at my house the night before we taped the show,” Winfrey said, where there were “conversations about [Patricia's] family and how I can be helpful.”

DING DING DING!