William Winter, the 58th governor of Mississippi, died at the age of 97.
The legacy of Governor William Winter of Mississippi will forever be linked to positive outcomes in terms of racial reconciliation and educational advancement.
He was born in Grenada in 1923 and grew up in a family that valued education. His mother, a teacher, taught him in a one-room school up to the second grade. He then attended and graduated from Grenada High School. After graduating from Ole Miss in 1943, he served three years in the infantry during World War II and served as a captain.
After his military service he returned to Mississippi and graduated from law school with Ole Miss. He was elected to the Mississippi Legislature in 1947 while studying law. He was then re-elected to this seat twice. In 1956 he became a tax collector for the state of Mississippi. He was then elected to the offices of State Treasurer and Vice-Governor. He was elected governor in 1979.
His tenure in the office of governor from 1980 to 1984 was marked by the passage of the landmark 1982 Education Reform Act. Winter stormed the state that was generating support for the law and eventually secured its passage in a special session of the legislature. This led to drastic educational improvements and funding, as well as the establishment of a kindergarten in public schools across the state.
Winter, a Democrat, ran for the US Senate against Thad Cochran after serving as governor, losing that race and ending his political electoral career. However, he remained a prominent figure in Mississippi politics for the rest of his life.
He has been a tireless advocate of racial reconciliation in Mississippi since serving as governor and is recognized nationally for this work. He has received a number of awards for this endeavor, including the John F. Kennedy Profile in the Courage Award, the Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial Award, and the Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum. He was named William F. Jackson Winter Archives and History Building. He was also the driving force behind and namesake of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at Ole Miss. He also received honorary degrees from Millsaps College, Tougaloo College, Mississippi University for Women, William Carey University, Mississippi College School of Law, Davidson College. Troy State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Mississippi State University.
Most recently, he was Special Counsel at the Jones Walker law firm in Jackson.
Married to former Elise Varner of Senatobia, and they had three daughters, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Governor Winter was a treasure trove to the state of Mississippi, and his civil service legacy and advocacy of racial reconciliation will continue to be felt for years to come.