Former Gov. William Winter and First Lady Elise Winter loved Mississippi.
It was evident that the love for the couple stretched well past party lines judging by the hundreds living and serving in Mississippi that were in attendance during last Tuesday’s Celebration of Life.
Winter, a Grenada native, was an American attorney and politician. He served as the 58th Governor of the State of Mississippi from 1980-1984.
“When I think of the word courage, I can think very quickly of William Winter,” Daniel Jordan, former director of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, said. “It took great courage to stand up for education reform. It took great courage to stand up for racial reconciliation and it took enormous courage to stand up to citizen’s council.”
Bill Clinton, who served as the 42nd President of the United States, made the trip to pay his respects to a Jackson man he called a friend.
“All I know is from the minute I met Bill Winter, I never had a scintilla of doubt that whatever happened in our friendship, whatever happened in his life, I was with one of the most authentic people I would ever know,” Clinton said.
The couple died within six months of each other and is remembered as a team that was committed to public service.
“I just thought he was the most remarkable person I ever had the pleasure of knowing and then I met Elise,” Merrill McKewen executive director for Habitat for Humanity of Mississippi Capital Area, said. “We all know what the Governor did, but Elise, the quiet force behind him, cheered him on and loved him unconditionally, and championed him in anything and everything because she believed in him. Elise stood beside him always. She was there because they together created a kinetic strength that allowed them to keep doing more and more.”
Winter passed away on Dec. 18, 2020, at the age of 97. Elise passed away at the age of 95 on July 17, 2021.
The location of the ceremony, the Two Mississippi Museums, didn’t happen by chance. Winter was passionate in having it built.
“Gov. Winter and Justice Reuben Anderson told me that we could build both the buildings, the history museum and Civil Rights Museum, and there would be room for all kinds of amenities,” former Gov. Haley Barbour added. “And as you can see, they were exactly right.”
Winter was known for strong support for public education, freedom of information, historic preservation and racial reconciliation issues.
“That flag would never have come down had Gov. Winter not started in the early 80s to bring to everybody’s attention that the damage that that flag was doing to our state,” former state Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson said.
Eleanor Winter spoke about her parents after the Celebration of Life event.
“They were both so kind and so welcoming to everybody,” she concluded. “And I think this is a particularly good time, right now with our country, to remind people of that, that we all have so much more in common than what divides us, and I think they are smiling from heaven at the crowd that came today.”