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"Andrew will always be one of the greatest loves of my life and we will continue to be family," Lee tells PEOPLE

By Adam Carlson
September 25, 2019 05:50 PM
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Celebrity chef and author Sandra Lee may no longer be with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but she tells PEOPLE she has a lot of affection for him — and always will.

“Andrew will always be one of the greatest loves of my life and we will continue to be family,” she says.

“His daughters and I share an incredibly close bond,” Lee, 53, says, referring to Cuomo’s three daughters with Kerry Kennedy: Michaela and twins Cara and Mariah.

“I will continue to be there for them as I have been for the last 14 years,” Lee tells PEOPLE.

She and Cuomo, who first met in 2005 and began dating soon after, announced their split on Wednesday, saying in a joint statement, in part: “Over the recent past, we have realized that our lives have gone in different directions and our romantic relationship has turned into a deep friendship.”

A source echoes that, telling PEOPLE, “Sandra has given everything to their family in the last 14 years and adores Andrew’s daughters. The relationship essentially turned from a romantic relationship into a friendship.”

“New York’s ‘first girlfriend’ is now everybody’s first girlfriend,” says a source close to the couple. “And one of the best things about Sandra is she’s always put her girlfriends first.”

Lee, a former Food Network host, bestselling cookbook author and lifestyle personality, rarely mixed her personal life with Cuomo’s political career. The son of a previous New York governor, Cuomo is in his third term.

Lee playfully used the “first girlfriend” honorific herself, and among other causes she supported efforts to end childhood hunger.

“We just have a good time together,” she told Harper’s Bazaar in 2011 of life with Cuomo.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Sandra Lee
From left: Gov. Cuomo and Sandra Lee in 2006
| Credit: Evan Agostini/Getty
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Sandra Lee
From left: Sandra Lee and Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014
| Credit: Kenneth Gabrielsen/Getty

They kept the early months of their romance quiet, even from his children, whom she would come to call her own. Some eighteen months in, however, “His parents told them for us,” Lee told the New York Post in 2011. “We just wanted to make sure that we were going to be together forever. I don’t believe in disrupting their lives.”

In time, Lee grew close to the three Cuomo girls.

“Although I have never birthed children myself, I simply can’t image loving any child more than I do these three,” she wrote in a Facebook post in 2017. “The thought that I had a hand in helping to raise such beautiful, kind, intelligent girls is amazing. But what I appreciate the most is that Andrew, my life partner and sweetheart, always included me, making me part of the family and the co-parent of these spectacular young women.”

The source tells PEOPLE that, despite what they still shared, Cuomo and Lee had not been together much in recent months.

“The couple spent the summer apart, as Andrew was tied to Albany [the New York capital] and Sandra has spent a lot of time on the West Coast caring for her uncle who has been diagnosed with colon cancer and a failing heart,” the source says. Lee took her uncle “on an extended bucket list trip.”

She has also been in Los Angeles seeking additional treatment after breast cancer reconstruction complications, according to an insider. Lee had a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.

Noting that one of Cuomo’s daughters is living with Lee in Manhattan, the source says, “Family is everything to Sandra and she always makes sure no one falls through the cracks and everybody has the support and insulation and loving care that they need.”