Remembering the life and legacy of the late Governor William Winter

Former Governor William Winter died Friday evening, he was 97 years old.
Updated: Dec. 19, 2020 at 11:57 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -One of the most prominent political figures in Mississippi has passed away.

Former Governor William Winter died Friday evening.

He was 97 years old.

Winter served as the states 58th governor from 1980-1984.

“William Winter is the greatest governor Mississippi has ever had,” said Ray Mabus, former Mississippi governor.

“William Winter was a student of history, but he was also a clarion voice for a better future,” said Ronnie Musgrove, former Mississippi governor.

When the news broke, people all throughout the country and state gave tributes honoring the former Democratic governor, including former Secretary of State Dick Molpus.

Before being elected into office, Molpus worked under Winter.

In fact, he was Winter’s first appointee in 1980 when he was selected as Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Federal-State Programs.

“I loved that man,” Molpus expressed. “He was my mentor, he was my confidant, my friend, and we were there until the very end.”

Molpus said one of Winter’s biggest accomplishments was the passage of the Education Reform Act of 1982.

That legislation established public kindergarten, and made school attendance mandatory.

The former governor also pushed for the removal of the old state flag which, featured the Confederate emblem.

One of Winter’s last civic duties was to vote on the design of a new state flag during the November election.

“I’ll tell you he would not have missed voting in that November election to take the rebel flag off of the Mississippi flag,” said Molpus. “To see that happen was such a gift to him as he ended the end of his life.”

Winter was also president of the Board of Trustees for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

He joined the board in 1957, was elected president in 1969, and served in that role until 2007.

During that time, he oversaw the opening of the Eudora Welty House, the restoration of the Old Capitol, and the construction of a state-of-the-art archives building that the state legislature named for him.

MDAH says Winter’s greatest legacy was the opening of the Two Mississippi Museums in 2017.

The organization said he helped convince state leaders of the need to build the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, and he was instrumental in securing public and private funds for the project.

However, those who were close to Winter said his best works were shown in the way he treated others.

“The fairness in which he treated people,” the transparency in which he treated people,” said Mabus.

Mabus worked under Winter before becoming governor himself.

He recalls how Winter would always go out of his way showing people he values and cares for them.

“Walking through any town in Mississippi with William Winter was really astounding because you’d just be walking down the sidewalk, and everybody he’d meet, he’d call by name,” Mabus recalled. “I asked him one time, how many people do you know in Mississippi by name. He said I don’t know, probably 200,000 or so.”

Winter only served one term as governor, but he had an impact on others that followed after him, including former Governor Ronnie Musgrove.

“It was easy to be around William Winter,” Musgrove explained. “It was easy to like him, even his political enemies liked him, that’s the kind of person that he was.”

Though Winter is now gone, many throughout the state said his works and legacy will continue to live on.

“He really loved people in Mississippi,” said Molpus. “He thought we had common ground and he spoke to the nobility in folks, that people here are hospitable, that if you have a strong leader they will follow, so he set an example for so many of us.”

“His legacy will be that he’s the standard which every other elected official is measured and will be measured,” said Mabus.

Prior to becoming governor, Winter also served as a state representative and lieutenant governor.

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