The Winter Celebration of Life
On May 3, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History celebrated the lives of Governor William Winter and First Lady Elise Winter at the Two Mississippi Museums. During the ceremony, Spence Flatgard, MDAH board president, announced the completion of the initial funding goal of the William and Elise Winter Education Endowment, a $5 million fund created to underwrite field trips for Mississippi’s schoolchildren.
About the Winters
William F. Winter served as Governor of Mississippi from 1980 to 1984. He had previously been elected to the state legislature, and to the offices of the state tax collector, state treasurer, and lieutenant governor. His term as governor has been nationally acclaimed for the groundbreaking passage of education reform legislation. He was later appointed to President Bill Clinton’s National Advisory Board on Race.
Throughout his political career, Elise Winter campaigned for William Winter, and she was a trusted advisor and policy advocate to her husband when he was elected to office. When Elise Winter was the state’s First Lady, she helped shepherd her husband’s key legislation and hosted social gatherings for prominent Mississippians at the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion.
Elise Winter advocated for improving the living conditions of imprisoned people, worked to increase funding for state correctional institutions, and campaigned for the construction of family visitor’s center at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman and a separate prison for women in Pearl. She was a founder, fundraiser, and volunteer of the Jackson area chapter of Habitat for Humanity, which has constructed more than 600 homes in the metro area for those in need. Elise Winter was recognized for her steadfast commitment to volunteer service during the 2015 Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence Awards.
William F. Winter joined the MDAH Board of Trustees in 1957. During his time as board president, Winter oversaw the opening of the Eudora Welty House & Garden, the restoration of the Old Capitol, and the construction of a state-of-the-art archives and history building that the state legislature named for him.
Winter also encouraged the department to strengthen its focus on African American history in Mississippi, acquiring significant collections of papers, mounting award-winning exhibits, and offering grants for the preservation of sites associated with African American history. Most notably, his close friendship with Myrlie Evers led to her decision to donate the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Collection to MDAH in 2002.
The opening of the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in 2017 is Winter’s greatest legacy at MDAH. Winter helped convince state leaders of the need to build the Two Mississippi Museums, and he was instrumental in securing public and private funds for the project.