2021 Regular Session

To: Rules

By: Senator(s) Kirby, Norwood, Simmons (12th), Barnett, Barrett, Blackwell, Blount, Boyd, Butler, Caughman, Chism, Frazier, Hopson, Horhn, McLendon, Michel, Seymour, Suber, Thomas, Turner-Ford, Williams, Witherspoon, Simmons (13th), Jackson (32nd)

Senate Concurrent Resolution 502

(As Adopted by Senate)


WHEREAS, it is with sadness and great respect that we join the family, friends and citizens of Mississippi in mourning the passing of former Governor William Forrest Winter on December 18, 2021, at age 97. Governor Winter's legacy in Mississippi will forever be tied to ushering sweeping reforms of the public school system and for his commitment to achieving racial reconciliation; and

WHEREAS, born in 1923 in Grenada, he grew up in a family that highly valued education. His mother, a teacher, taught him in a one-room school through the second grade. He then attended and graduated from Grenada High School. After his graduation from Ole Miss in 1943, he served in the U.S. Army Infantry in the Philippines during World War II emerging as a Captain and was recalled to service during the Korean War. He served as a Major in the Mississippi National Guard until 1957; and

WHEREAS, after his military service, he returned to Mississippi and graduated from law school at Ole Miss. While still in law school, he was elected to the Mississippi Legislature in 1947. He was subsequently re-elected twice to that seat; and

WHEREAS, in 1956, he became the Tax Collector for the State of Mississippi. He was subsequently elected to the offices of State Treasurer and Lieutenant Governor. He was elected Governor in 1979 and served from 1980-1984; and

WHEREAS, "The only road out of poverty runs past the schoolhouse door," Winter famously said as he championed the Education Reform Act of 1982, heralded at the time as the most significant state education legislation since Mississippi created its public education system in 1870. Winter barnstormed the state generating support for the act and in a Special Session of the Legislature ultimately secured its passage; and

WHEREAS, the Education Reform Act of 1982 brought increased school funding and a teacher pay raise, created a compulsory attendance law, a school accountability system, and publicly funded kindergarten, among other reforms. It was a notable break from the state leadership's racist apathy toward public education. The late nationally syndicated Columnist Carl Rowan wrote, "The greatest piece of Civil Rights, national security and economic recovery legislation enacted this year. It is the bill enacted by the Mississippi Legislature to spend $106 Million to give children of Mississippi a more reasonable chance at a decent education and lift Mississippi out of the ignominy of being the worst-educated state in the union"; and

WHEREAS, Winter, a Democrat, ran for the U.S. Senate against Thad Cochran after serving as Governor, losing that race and ending his elective political career. However, he remained a prominent figure in Mississippi politics throughout the remainder of his life; and

WHEREAS, after serving as Governor, he was a tireless advocate for racial reconciliation in Mississippi and is nationally recognized for that work. He received a number of awards recognizing those efforts, including the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Award, the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award, and he has been honored by the naming of the William F. Winter Archives and History Building in Jackson. He was also the driving force 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. He had most recently served as Special Counsel in the Jones Walker Law Firm in Jackson; and

WHEREAS, Governor Winter appointed Jack Reed, Sr., to a Blue Ribbon Education Panel in the 1980s and asked the panel to make recommendations for improving the state's education system. The two worked together again in 2001 on the committee that recommended a statewide vote to change the flag. The vote ultimately left the 1894 flag bearing a Confederate battle emblem in place, but the two men were nonetheless vocal in their desire to see a new flag, despite strong opposition to the idea. The goal that Winter and Reed sought for two decades finally became reality in 2020, when the Legislature retired the 1894 flag and the state's voters strongly backed a new design. Reed passed away in 2016 and did not live to see the change, but Winter did. Even though the former Governor was elated that he lived to see the state do away with the flag, he still believed there was more progress to be made in the state. The last public statement Winter issued was praising state lawmakers in June for voting to change Mississippi's divisive flag, which he said was long overdue. But he made the point himself that there was much still left undone; and

WHEREAS, Republican former Governor Haley Barbour recalled Winter as a friend, "a gentleman, honorable and gracious." "While our politics didn't always coincide, I've always admired him," Barbour said. "He made great changes in the structure of Mississippi's K-12 educational system He and Mrs. Winter, who is a delightful, gracious lady, represented our state very well, both while he was in elected office and afterwards"; and

WHEREAS, married to the former Elise Varner of Senatobia for 70 years, the couple had three daughters, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren; and

WHEREAS, Governor Winter was a treasure to the State of Mississippi and his legacy in public service and advocacy for racial reconciliation will continue to be felt for years to come; and

WHEREAS, we pay tribute and cherish fondly the memory of this most public-spirited citizen of Mississippi with enormous civic energy who will be missed by all who were fortunate enough to have experienced his leadership and friendship:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES CONCURRING THEREIN, That we do hereby remember the legacy of former Governor William F. Winter and extend the deepest sympathy of the Legislature to his surviving family and friends on his passing.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That this resolution be presented to the surviving family of Governor William Winter, forwarded to the State Board of Education and the Mississippi Institute for Racial Reconciliation, and made available to the Capitol Press Corps.