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Winter celebrates 90th birthday

NATCHEZ — Former Gov. William Winter has collected quite a few memories in his 90 years.

Some of his favorite memories, he says, are right here in Natchez, particularly from his years of involvement in the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration as the director of proceedings.

The NLCC is hosting a birthday celebration in honor of Winter’s 90th birthday, which is today.

Winter served as the 57th governor of Mississippi from 1980 until 1984 as a Democrat. He is known for his support of freedom of information, racial reconciliation, historic preservation and public education.

Winter is perhaps best remembered for the passage of the Mississippi Education Reform Act that established public kindergartens.

NLCC Founder and Co-Chairman Carolyn Vance Smith asked Winter to serve as director of proceedings for the first NLCC in 1990.

“He instantly said he would love to do it,” Smith said. “He is so admired and so revered. To have someone of his popularity, his intellect and his leadership to be our director of proceedings has enriched our conference in ways we can’t put into words.”

During the first NLCC festivities, Winter’s dear friend and famed Mississippi author Eudora Welty read her short story “A Worn Path.”

“I’ll always remember that,” Winter said.

Welty and Winter were neighbors in Jackson and became great friends.

“She was a hero of mine long before I got to know her,” Winter said. “When I became better acquainted with her, I followed her with great interest.

“She was so gracious and kind to me. I regard Eudora Welty as one of the two or three great writers in America during my lifetime.”

As a supporter of literature, cinema and other arts, Winter said the NLCC is an event that is important not only to Natchez but to all of Mississippi as well.

“I was absolutely charmed by the program the first year and the idea of such a celebration,” Winter said. “And every year it has produced very interesting and impressive programs. Every year it gets better and better.

“The NLCC, I think, is one of the most important events that we have in our state. It raises our sights and helps us to appreciate more the genius that has come out of Mississippi.”

Adams County Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell plans to pass a proclamation this morning declaring today William Winter Day in Adams County in honor of Winter’s 90th birthday.

Grennell, who is also involved in the NLCC, said he is a great admirer of Winter, especially for Winter’s racial reconciliation efforts.

“One of the greatest aspects of Gov. Winter is what he did to enhance race relations across the state,” Grennell said. “He believed in diversity and being inclusive of every ethnic background. I’ve always admired that about him.”

Grennell said Winter has also been a major asset to NLCC.

“He has always encouraged people to participate in literature and the arts, and I am just so excited this celebration for him his taking place. I am very happy to see Gov. Winter make 90 years.”

Winter said he is happy to be back in Natchez at the NLCC to celebrate his birthday.

“We have so many friends there, and I especially appreciate Carolyn Smith’s friendship and kindness,” Winter said. “I am so grateful that those responsible for this year’s celebration would note my 90th birthday. It is a special landmark for me, and I’m grateful to comeback to Natchez and celebrate it with all of my friends there.”