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Former Mississippi Gov. William Winter dies at 97

The Democrat pushed to strengthen public education and improve race relations.
Image: William Winter
Former Gov. William Wiinter leaves the House chambers at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson, Miss., in 2009.Rogelio V. Solis / AP file

JACKSON, Miss. — Former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, a Democrat who pushed to strengthen public education and improve race relations, has died. He was 97.

Winter, who was governor from 1980 to 1984, died Friday night at home in Jackson, family spokesman Dick Molpus said Saturday. Molpus is a former Mississippi secretary of state who had worked on Winter's gubernatorial staff.

As governor, Winter was best known for pushing Mississippi lawmakers to enact the Education Reform Act of 1982, which set rules for compulsory school attendance, established free public kindergartens and set quality standards for schools and teachers in a state that had long struggled with the intertwined problems of poverty, racial strife and poor academic performance.

Winter served in the 1990s as co-chairman of a national commission on racial reconciliation created by President Bill Clinton, whose time as governor of Arkansas overlapped with Winter's time as governor of Mississippi.

Winter is survived by his wife of 70 years, Elise Varner Winter; their daughters Anne Winter, Lele Gillespie and Eleanor Winter; and five grandchildren.