Bill Text: MS SC507 | 2022 | Regular Session | Enrolled

Bill Title: Extending the deepest sympathy on the passing of former Mississippi First Lady and community activist Elise Winter.

Spectrum: Slight Partisan Bill (Democrat 7-4)

Status: (Passed) 2022-02-15 - Enrolled Bill Signed [SC507 Detail]

Download: Mississippi-2022-SC507-Enrolled.html


2022 Regular Session

To: Rules

By: Senator(s) Blount, Branning, Frazier, Hopson, Horhn, Michel, Norwood, Simmons (12th), Simmons (13th), Sparks, Thomas

Senate Concurrent Resolution 507

(As Adopted by Senate and House)


     WHEREAS, it is with sadness that we note the passing of Elise Varner Winter, the widow of Mississippi Governor William Winter, on July 17, 2021, in Jackson, at the age of 95; and

     WHEREAS, Mrs. Winter was an active partner in her husband's administration, which set a new tone of inclusion and openness to change and brought about significant reforms in the state's educational system.  Friends said her grace, intelligence and sense of duty were essential to the success of the administration; and

     WHEREAS, throughout her husband's political career, she campaigned vigorously for his many successful campaigns for many elective offices in state government, including the Governorship in 1979.  At that time, the Governor could serve only one term, and as First Lady, Mrs. Winter made a serious commitment to the people of Mississippi and to the Governor to help him accomplish as many good things for their state as possible during those few years.  It was a job that demanded her careful, thoughtful attention and unflagging energy every single day; and

     WHEREAS, Mrs. Winter assumed her role as First Lady at a transitional time for women, when the roles of traditional homemaking and progressive feminism were pulling women in opposite directions, and she was a transitional First Lady.  While possessing the charm and domestic talents of a traditional southern First "Lady of the House," she also demonstrated a modern woman's professional and purposeful approach to her job, and commanded the attention and respect of the Governor and his all-male staff; and

     WHEREAS, she played a principal role in the Governor's efforts to reform the state's educational system.  Along with Governor Winter and his senior aides, the First Lady led a statewide grassroots campaign to win the support of the public.  She made hundreds of speeches, visited scores of classrooms, and explained the Governor's plans to thousands of people who attended nine forums held across the state.  Though soft spoken and gentle, she would directly engage confrontational individuals when necessary to refute mistaken ideas; and

     WHEREAS, in a special session, the Legislature overwhelmingly passed the historic 1982 Educational Reform Act, ensuring the state a system of kindergartens, compulsory attendance laws, and other improvements.  Governor Winter always said that no one worked harder for this achievement or experienced more joy in its passage than his wife; and

     WHEREAS, to showcase the state's cultural achievements, Mrs. Winter coordinated an ambitious series of events, co-hosting with the Governor many accomplished Mississippians at the Governor's Mansion.  These occasions featured artists, writers, and business and political leaders, including such luminaries as Eudora Welty, Leontyne Price, Walker Percy, Shelby Foote, Margaret Walker Alexander and Willie Morris; and

     WHEREAS, in addition to excelling as the Governor's hostess-wife, she was a conscientious steward of the Governor's Mansion, designated as a national historic landmark.  She collaborated with state officials and specialists to develop its collection of antique furnishings and decorative arts.  Under her supervision, Friends of the Mansion was organized, and supporters contributed generously to acquire historic artifacts for the Mansion; and

     WHEREAS, Mrs. Winter took special interest in the State Penitentiary inmates assigned to the Governor's Mansion on a work release program.  She was committed to teaching them skills they could use later and was equally dedicated to helping them find jobs upon their release; and 

     WHEREAS, her compassion for the workers at the Mansion extended to the prisoners at the State Penitentiary at Parchman.  Left behind are several material results of her work.  Her concern for incarcerated women in the overwhelmingly male prison led to the creation of a separate women's prison in Pearl, Mississippi.  She was responsible for getting a visitors center built for Parchman inmates' families finding the financing, planning, and working closely with the prison staff to have prisoners carry out the actual construction.  These facilities, now expanded, are in use today; and

     WHEREAS, like the Governor, Mrs. Winter brought to her position a deep appreciation for history.  As First Lady, she kept a journal of her daily activities and reflections, intending the information only as a historical record.  She was eventually persuaded to publish it in 2015.  Her book, Once in a Lifetime: Reflections of a Mississippi First Lady, reveals the extraordinary volume and range of her own activities and puts a human face on the Winter's work; and

     WHEREAS, after leaving government service, Elise Winter became an essential driving force in the mission of Habitat for Humanity in the Metro-Jackson area as a founder, major fundraiser, life member of the board, and hands-on volunteer.  She also served on the Habitat International Board.  In 2012, the Jackson Habitat Chapter awarded her its first Founder's Award in appreciation for 25 years of service.  "Habitat excites and inspires me in a way nothing else does," she has said. "To see people whose need is so great and to know that there's something you can do to help them it touches your heart"; and

     WHEREAS, Elise Winter was born May 9, 1926, to Mamie and William Elliot (John) Varner in Senatobia, Mississippi.  Her father was the town Pharmacist and longtime Mayor of Senatobia, and her mother was his Bookkeeper and the strong guiding hand of Elise and her older siblings, Virginia and Joel.  They lived with her maternal grandparents three generations in a big, old house at the end of Main Street in Senatobia.  After high school, she attended Northwest Junior College in her hometown and lived at home, transferring to Ole Miss as a junior; and

     WHEREAS, at Ole Miss her brother introduced her to his roommate, William Winter from Grenada, a friendly young Veteran of World War II and law student.  She completed a Bachelor's Degree in History, and at her mother's insistence earned a teaching certificate.  As she began working toward a Master's degree, William won his first term in the State Legislature.  They were married in 1950 and enjoyed an exciting first year of married life in Washington, D.C., where William worked in Mississippi Senator John Stennis' office.  The following year, the couple returned to Mississippi and never left.  William resumed his political career, and they built a family.  Elise took the lead in bringing up their three daughters; and

     WHEREAS, Mrs. Winter's death follows that of her husband by less than a year.  She is survived by three daughters:  Anne Winter, Lele Gillespie and Eleanor Winter; five grandchildren:  Dr. Winter Williams, Dr. Zach Williams, Ty Gillespie, Caroline Gillespie and Grace Gillespie; and five great-grandchildren; and

     WHEREAS, words Mrs. Winter wrote in tribute to a deceased former Governor's Mansion inmate worker speak poignantly about her character:  "[His service] made me realize again that social standing or economic status or sectarian creed or race does not make any difference in the sight of God that we are his children and we must continue our miraculous journey together, learning to love one another as we go forward"; and

     WHEREAS, we pay tribute and cherish fondly the memory of this most public-spirited citizen of Mississippi whose enormous civic energy and volunteer calling is a legacy of leadership and dedication to the state she loved:

     NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES CONCURRING THEREIN, That we do hereby mourn the passing of former Mississippi First Lady and Community Activist Elise Varner Winter and extend the deepest sympathy and condolences of the Legislature.

     BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED That this resolution be presented to the surviving family of Elise Winter, forwarded to Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Capital Area and the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and be made available to the Capitol Press Corps.