Former President Bill Clinton will be among the speakers May 3 in a ceremony at the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson honoring the lives of former Gov. William Winter and First Lady Elise Winter.

President Bill Clinton walks with former Mississippi governor William Winter into the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, on March 22, 1995. Winter spoke before Clinton signed the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act of 1995. Credit: Dennis Cook, AP

Clinton’s tenure as Arkansas governor overlapped with Winter’s term as governor of Mississippi from 1980 until 84. And as president, Clinton appointed Winter to co-chair his Initiative on Race that dealt with the issue of racial reconciliation. The William Winter Institute of Racial Reconciliation, now the Alluvial Collective, also was created at the University of Mississippi.

Also speaking at the event sponsored by the Foundation for Mississippi History will be Reuben Anderson, the state’s first African American Supreme Court justice, and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Winter died in December 2020 at the age of 97 and the former first lady died in July 2021 at the age of 95. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no public service upon their deaths. The May event will be the first.

After his death, Mississippi Today posted a “homily” by Rob Lowry, the former pastor of Fondren Presbyterian Church in Jackson where the Winter’s were members, honoring the former governor and outlining what he would have said if there had been a service.

Lowry wrote, “Governor Winter was a kind of public servant almost entirely absent on the scene today. He led with a passion for justice and a compassion for his neighbor that was born not of selfish ambition but a sense of responsibility and a profound belief in the promise and possibility of a better tomorrow. Acutely aware of the advantages his hard work and education had earned, he set about to work for the betterment of his home state. That commitment to leave Mississippi better than he found it was the cornerstone of a public life that helped shape our state for half of one century and into the next.”

Winter steered the Education Reform Act of 1982 to passage in an improbable special legislative session right before Christmas, creating public kindergartens among other education changes.

Elise Winter also was active in public service, working with her husband on education issues as first lady and to improve the conditions at Parchman Penitentiary. She was active in Habitat for Humanity and on other issues.

William Winter was a long-time member of the state’s Archives and History Board and, along, with Anderson, who is a member, led the effort to develop the state’s Two Mississippi Museums – the museum of history and of civil rights. He also was critical in the decision of Myrlie Evers to donate to the state the papers of her and her late husband, Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, who was assassinated outside his Jackson home in 1963.

During the administration of Barbour from 2004 until 2012, Winter and Anderson worked with the then-governor to garner state funding for the Two Mississippi Museums project that has received national praise.

“These museums stand at the intersection of William Winter’s greatest passions—history, education, and racial justice,” MDAH Director Katie Blount said, “Generations of young people will come here to experience the stories that have shaped our state and nation.”

Winter had a long career in politics, serving in multiple statewide offices, and he also served in the Legislature.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.