During the Christmas holidays, I had some rare time to do some reading. I found myself drawn to a recently published book of thoughts and speeches of former governor, and still vibrant public figure, William Winter. This work is entitled the “The Measure of Our Days: Writings of William F. Winter,” and it is edited by assistant to the chancellor of the University of Mississippi Dr. Andy Mullins. My decision to commit my scarce reading time to this particular work was rewarded immeasurably. I found myself returning to passages that I had already read on numerous occasions.
William Winter’s public life arguably began at the knee of his legislator father, and it continues today into his mid-80s with no end in sight. A key event that, on reflection, can certainly be viewed as prophetic was Inauguration Day 1932 when Gov. Winter’s father, Sen. William A. Winter, took the then nine-year-old future governor to the office of newly inaugurated Gov. Mike Conner. Gov. Conner shook young Winter’s hand, and invited him to sit in the his chair behind the spacious and ornate desk of the governor of Mississippi. It was to that desk that William Winter would return some 47 years later on the day he himself was inaugurated as governor of Mississippi.
Not all books of speeches and letters have the ability to capture the attention of readers who may have forgotten the context in which such thoughts and ideas occurred. Editor Andy Mullins was given the freedom to immerse himself in the filing cabinets that hold a life of ideas faithfully captured and carefully saved. Mullins’ organization of these ideas into topical areas rather than a mere chronology proves to be a very effective way to draw the most meaning from these thoughts. Whether the subject of government, politics and leadership, justice and law, education or the image of Mississippi is discussed, there is a remarkable consistency in the deeply held beliefs of a man who has spent a lifetime yearning for a better life for his fellow citizens.
Regardless of the topic under scrutiny, the heart of William Winter permeates his discussion. He implores us to view our roles in public life from three complimentary angles. First, Winter encourages us to embrace the very real public role of “Citizen.” Secondly, he implores us in our roles as citizens to develop an affinity for ideas and to vigorously but politely defend those ideas, and in so doing, contribute to the elevation of the quality of public discourse. Finally, a constant underlying theme of William Winter is that of the proper role of government and its potential to make life better for all citizens. It is abundantly clear from the reading of his speeches that the ideas contained in them are far beyond the mere thoughts of one who would be a responsible public servant. While they are certainly that, these writings are fueled by compassion, and at times are fraught with agony over the effort to implore the good people of Winter’s home state to do their best for themselves and their fellow Mississippians.
The consistency mentioned above is evident when one examines some of his earliest writing. The old cliché’ that hindsight is 20/20 applies to many of us as we revise our ideas in light of changing times. Gov. Winter need never be concerned about an accusation of revisionism in light of changing times. As evidence, I offer a quote from a speech made to All Saints School in Vicksburg in March 1963 during some of the darkest days of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi. In that speech, given 16 years prior to his election as governor, Winter said, “This is no time to be drinking from the wells of bitterness and recrimination. The political leader who can successfully turn his people from a preoccupation with the race issue and all of the supercharged emotions of anxiety, fear, and hate which that issue suggests, will, in my opinion, have served well the cause of Southern statesmanship and helped to put his region on the road to a happier and better day.”
If I had to briefly characterize a lifetime’s public discussion lead by William Winter, it would center on two questions: What is the appropriate contribution from those of us to whom life has been generous to those of us who are less fortunate, and will we not all be further blessed by the success of the least of us?
“The Measure of Our Days,” distributed by the University Press of Mississippi, places the basis for reflecting on these questions at all our fingertips.