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Tamron Hall’s sister, Renate, was always the strong one in the family, the one everyone could lean on. Now, the TODAY co-host is turning Renate’s tragic death into an effort to provide that same strength to family and friends of domestic violence victims.
In 2004, Renate, a 48-year-old mother of two, was murdered at home in Houston. No suspect was named and the crime was never solved, but the terrible tragedy came after years of relationships with abusive men.
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In one instance, Hall witnessed it firsthand. Months before she died, Renate and her boyfriend were visiting Tamron in Chicago when there was a violent altercation. Tamron came downstairs to find her house in disarray, and her sister battered. She threw the man out, but he and Renate patched things up a short while later. As Tamron explained, she was bewildered by her sister’s choice to reconcile, but she and her family weren’t sure whom to turn to.
Propelled by her sister’s story, Tamron has advocated for domestic violence victims for nearly a decade. And this week, she partnered with Safe Horizon to launch The Tamron (Heart) Renate Fund, a new effort to help people who suspect someone they love is in trouble.
She recently spoke with TODAY about her hopes for the new fund.
What drove you to launch this fund now?
After the People magazine article came out on my sister, I realized that so much of her story was defined by me. People would say, “What happened to your sister?” And it struck me that that became her description — “Tamron Hall’s sister” — and not her name, Renate, and not her story. I wanted her legacy to be much more than “my sister who was the victim of domestic violence.” I wanted something associated with her name that meant uplifting and empowering other people.
I proposed (to Safe Horizon) the idea of, how do we reach out to family members and friends who don’t know what to say? That’s exactly what happened to me and my sister. I was faced with a situation and I didn’t know what to do, and I think my family felt the same way.
I wanted to provide a fund that could give assistance to a girlfriend, for instance, who calls Safe Horizon and says, “What do I do? The stories aren’t making sense. I don’t want to judge her, but I also don’t want her to stay. How do I approach this?”
Tell us a little about Renate? What are some of your favorite memories of her?
My sister was so outgoing, just the life of the party. She’s the person who would walk in the room and everyone just would laugh. She was a just a magnet. And I think, throughout her life … she always wanted acceptance. She was one of those people who got joy in seeing other people have fun, and I think that added to her hiding her own pain, her own embarrassment.
She always wanted to portray the strong person, the shoulder that everyone could lean on. And this conflicted greatly with what she was going through personally.
You've talked about how you witnessed a violent confrontation at your home several years ago. What do you remember about the aftermath of the incident?
I just remember taking charge and kicking the person out of my home, and really believing that it was all over. And, to my surprise, the next morning, the person was in my home. She let him in while I was asleep, and they’d reconciled. He was back in my home, without my permission. And I was so furious. I couldn’t understand why she wanted to be with this person, why (she would) bring him back into this home. I just didn’t get it. And we didn’t talk for a few months.
The holidays came and my father really pushed to end it. I wasn’t holding a grudge against her, I just thought, “Why are you doing this to yourself? Why be in this situation?” Which is exactly what you’re not supposed to do. But I didn’t know at the time.
When your sister was going through this, did you feel like you could talk to her about it or talk to your family about it, or were you scared to speak up?
My sister lived with someone, and she didn’t live in the same city. I’d suspected there was something not right. You can have a feeling about a situation, you can make observations, and I did. But I did not know, until the incident in my home, the level of violence that existed.
For me, that was a moment of reckoning. That was a moment of reality; that was a moment of seeing it firsthand. You can suspect, you can overhear rumors or whatever. It’s one thing to have a feeling, it’s another thing to see it.
Are there subtle signs of domestic violence you think loved ones who suspect something should look out for? Or advice they can offer?
I’ll be honest. I’ve met hundreds of women, and I am not qualified to point out one sign. I’m still going through this as well. But for me, my voice is simply to represent a large group of people, connected to victims and survivors, who want to help, and they don’t know what to do.
The consistent advice is something so simple and we all could do more of it: Just listen, without judgment. Remind them that there are resources. Remind them that there is hope.
There’s a lot of embarrassment associated with this. A lot of “I can fix it behind the scenes.” And the consistent message from these advocates and these survivors who go on to be advocates for domestic violence is that we have to let the person know we are there without judgment.
We won’t say, “Why are you staying?” We won’t say, “You should do this, you should do that.” It really is listening and helping to erase this feeling of embarrassment and replace it with a real hope of rebuilding your life.