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Oprah Winfrey's Father, Stepmother In Dispute

7:33 AM, Jul 10, 2012   |    comments
Vernon and Barbara Winfrey, who married in June 2000, served as grand marshals of the 2008 Carondelet parade in Brentwood. File / The Tennessean
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(THE TENNESSEAN) -- Last fall held promise for Vernon Winfrey - father of TV legend Oprah Winfrey - as he announced completion of the first phase of his Winberry Place development in East Nashville.

Eight months later, that property was bought out of foreclosure. On Monday, things grew worse as his wife, Barbara Winfrey, accused Vernon Winfrey, 79, in divorce papers of threatening to kill her, cheating on her and conspiring with his billionaire daughter to have her thrown out of her home.

Barbara Winfrey's claim in Williamson County court brings to a head weeks of behind-the-scenes turmoil in the lives of Oprah Winfrey's father and his second wife that court and public records now shed light on.

A barber and former Metro councilman, Vernon Winfrey continued to live in Nashville and run his barbershop even after his daughter became an internationally known talk show celebrity. On June 17, 2000, in Nashville, he married Barbara Winfrey, 64, marking his second marriage and her third, court records show. The Winfreys met in the 1990s when Vernon Winfrey was running for election to the Metro Council. Barbara Winfrey is a former teacher.

Though the couple kept some Nashville property, they lived in the gated LaurelBrooke subdivision in Williamson County's Grassland community. County records show their property is worth $1.49 million.

Just five days after their 12th anniversary on June 22, Vernon Winfrey filed for divorce, claiming Barbara Winfrey was "guilty of inappropriate marital conduct" and citing irreconcilable differences.

The divorce grew nastier Monday when Barbara Winfrey fired back with a counter-claim denying any wrongdoing and declaring that she feared for her personal safety and financial future.

She alleges that on one occasion Vernon Winfrey "became angered at her, chased her with a gun, and threatened to shoot her." She says he had "more than one adulterous relationship" during their 12-year marriage.

Barbara Winfrey, who is seeking alimony support, claims Vernon Winfrey and Oprah Winfrey are taking "actions designed to deprive (Barbara Winfrey) of her equitable interest in their marital property."

Their Grassland home is titled in Oprah Winfrey's name, and Vernon Winfrey told her "he was going to force her to leave the marital residence, with no place to go," according to Barbara Winfrey's filings.

While the couple owns rental property, she says Vernon Winfrey has "instructed the renters to 'hold the rent.' " Barbara Winfrey says she had been collecting the rents and using the money to cover their expenses.

Properties lost
Vernon and Barbara Winfrey recently lost ownership of their Lischey Place property, which included his new barbershop, along with property Vernon Winfrey owned on Owen Street and a house Barbara Winfrey owned on Chateau Valley Lane. Phoenix Trust II, which has a Wilmette, Ill., mailing address, paid $475,100 to buy the three properties on July 2 after they had fallen into foreclosure.

That same day, Williamson County Sheriff's officials responded to a phone call from Barbara Winfrey, who complained that Vernon Winfrey and "an entourage of friends" had shown up at their LaurelBrooke home and were unwanted there, said Sharon Puckett, a sheriff's spokeswoman.

Attempts to reach Vernon Winfrey or his attorney were unsuccessful. Barbara Winfrey's attorney, Rose Palermo declined to comment for this article, pointing to her client's response to the divorce filing.

A call for comment from Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Communications was not returned by deadline.

Reach Kevin Walters at 615-771-5472 or kewalters@tennessean.com


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