Why Oprah Winfrey Credits Her Father Vernon For Saving Her Life

Oprah Winfrey regularly makes Forbes' list of the richest self-made women in America, but that's not to say she didn't have a great foundation to help her reach that point. In fact, she credits her father, Vernon Winfrey, for ensuring she took the right path as a youngster. In so doing, she's said, he not only set her up for success — but saved her life. 

Oprah has long spoken about the important role her father played in her life, especially once she began living with him as a teenager. Though she'd lived with him and her stepmother, Zelma Winfrey, for a brief time when she was an 8-year-old, it was only when she was 14 that she moved in with him permanently. Sadly, the circumstances under which she'd returned weren't the happiest. She revealed that after years of sexual abuse by family members, she'd developed an unhealthy approach to sexuality and fell pregnant. She explained on "Oprah's Lifeclass" that her mother, Vernita Lee, had attempted to send her to a detention center. However, when the center didn't have space, she was sent to her father and stepmother once again. 

For Oprah, this was a watershed moment. In addition to moving in with Vernon and Zelma, her newborn son, Canaan Winfrey, passed away, and Vernon encouraged her to see it as her second chance. And that she did. 

Vernon fostered Oprah's intelligence

Despite the tragic circumstances of her early years, Oprah Winfrey is the first to admit that she was smart as a child. However, it wasn't until she moved in with Vernon Winfrey that her intelligence was used for good. In fact, as she revealed in an interview with The Washington Post back in 1986, prior to their reunion, she was headed down a dangerous path. "If I hadn't been sent to my father, I would have gone in another direction. I could have made a good criminal," she told the outlet. 

Vernon's approach to his daughter's intelligence was an insistence on academic excellence. It was something he was unrelenting on, even when Oprah wasn't getting bad grades, per se. Such was the case when she earned a number of C's. Vernon was unimpressed with the results, to say the least. However, speaking to The Washington Post, Oprah shared that he'd explained that it was simply because he knew what she was capable of and was determined that she use her gifts for good. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the impact Vernon's approach to education had on Oprah was a massive one. On top of changing her own life for the better, today, she's a passionate advocate for education herself. She's channeled that passion into The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. It's a full-circle endeavor, too. As she wrote on her website, opening the school allowed her to be a mother to countless young girls needing inspiration. 

He also taught her to always do the right thing

Vernon Winfrey's focus on education wasn't the only thing he did to save his daughter's life. His unwavering commitment to staying true to his personal values, too, played a role — and in more ways than one. 

For starters, as Oprah Winfrey shared in her eulogy for her father when he passed away in 2022, it was his values that made taking her in a no-brainer. Once again, she mused that without that, there was a good chance she might not have survived, let alone gone on to become one of the most successful women on the planet, with an eye-watering net worth estimated by Forbes to be around $2.8 billion. That said, it was precisely the way in which Vernon prioritized his values each and every day that helped a young Oprah learn the importance of doing the same in her own life. In fact, it inspired one of the major thrusts of what she's built her career on. As she pointed out on Oprah Daily, encouraging others to be themselves — and the best version of that — has been her goal every step of the way. 

Vernon did more than just save Oprah's life; he set her up for a life that would impact countless others across the globe. Boy, has she done that and then some.