By Erin Garrett
University of Mississippi
John W. Winkle III was a monumental figure at the University of Mississippi. He has won virtually every teaching award offered by the university, served as chair of the political science department more than once, and helped found the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Trent Lott Leadership Institute, to name a few. cite just a few achievements.
Her dearest compliment, however, came from a student.
“John had a student from a rural, underfunded school system in Mississippi who struggled but eventually passed his constitutional law course,” said Ellen Meacham, an assistant journalism professor and Winkle’s wife. “The student said, ‘It was the hardest class I’ve ever taken, but Dr. Winkle never made me feel stupid. “”
Colleagues, friends and former students remember the professor emeritus of political science, who died on October 23, for his many achievements and his extraordinary character. At the news of Winkle’s death, tributes poured in from across campus and from the highest federal offices.
“John Winkle was devoted to our beloved Ole Miss and her students,” said Gloria Kellum, former Vice Chancellor for University Relations. “He wanted his students to excel in life, so his teaching was based on subject matter but much more on life and life.
“He has helped create an environment of academic excellence in his teaching, service, and research and scholarship efforts. He has been an agent of change for our university and for so many graduates and colleagues.
“John was a friend, colleague, mentor and someone with great intelligence, integrity, kindness and humor – a great person in every way.”
Sentiments like these are reflected in donations to the John W. Winkle III Fund for Academic Excellence. The endowment offers scholarships to political science majors with outstanding academic achievement and a strong interest in public service.
“John left an incredible mark on this campus in so many ways, but his work in the classroom was unparalleled,” said John Bruce, president and associate professor of political science. “This endowment is a fitting tribute to a man who cared so much about his students.”
Winkle has taught undergraduate and graduate political science courses, as well as a range of courses on special subjects for the Honors College. He remained in class even after his retirement and was teaching an experiential learning course focused on the Supreme Court at the time of his death.
The university and his colleagues have regularly recognized Winkle for his achievements on campus. His track record includes:
- the Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award
- Burlington-Northern Faculty Excellence Award
- Thomas Frist Student Service Award
- the price of random acts of kindness
- four-time recipient of the Liberal Arts Achievement Award
- four-time recipient of the University Research Award
- four-time recipient of the Graduate School Research Award
His students remember his encouragement and dedication.
“He was articulate and inspiring,” said U.S. Federal District Court Judge Michael Mills. “He also had a very nice attitude and a great sense of authenticity. He certainly inspired me with a love of the law. A very good man.
When the university named Winkle a top teacher in 1980, Karen Hinton was there to cheer on her teacher along with her classmate, Linda Monk.
“After my first class with Dr. Winkle, I went back to my dorm thinking I wanted to be like him,” said Hinton, a political adviser and former journalist from Mississippi. “I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to be, until I listened to him, his questions, his answers.”
Monk, a constitutional law scholar and author, said Winkle played a pivotal role in his career.
“There are debts that you can never repay,” Monk said. “Mine was to Dr. John W. Winkle III, who became my mentor and friend of 45 years. His constitutional law course prepared me for my life’s work — and the rigors of Harvard Law School.
“His generosity to his alumni was legendary and he graciously edited my books. The university has truly lost a scholar and a gentleman, who embodied the highest standards of excellence and did so wholeheartedly.
Winkle left a legacy on campus – one that will resonate for decades to come. A recent gift from an anonymous donor to Honors College established the John Winkle Reading and Research Room. It was a fitting tribute, as Winkle wrote the eight-page vision statement that led to the establishment of the college.
Mississippi State Auditor Shad White called Winkle the most important mentor in college.
“He served as my thesis supervisor and was an amazing friend,” White said. “I still remember when I left the graduation scene, he hugged me, looked me in the eye and said, ‘You’re going to change the world.’
“The confidence of that gaze pushed me to accomplish far beyond what I thought I could before I encountered it. And I am just one of hundreds of students he has inspired.
Winkle also proposed the creation of a leadership institute and guided the early stages of what later became the Trent Lott Leadership Institute.
“He was someone who really cared about people, and he cared especially about his students,” said former UM vice chancellor Thomas Wallace, vice president of student affairs at California State University. in Bakersfield. “He did everything a wonderful teacher should do to get his students interested in learning and to make learning fun.”
Outside of the classroom, Winkle has had a wide variety of accolades and passion projects. He wrote the final text of the Mississippi state constitution in 2014. He also served as recording secretary for the Judicial Advisory Study Committee and the Mississippi Bar Association Commission on Courts in the 21st Century .
An avid Boston Red Sox fan, he coached many youth baseball seasons, including a few with author John Grisham. In Grisham’s “The Street Lawyer”, a character appears as Officer Winkle.
He boosted the Oxford community by helping organize one of its farmers markets. The Oxford Community Market was among the first in the state to accept SNAP benefits.
Winkle helped write the USDA grant that helped Marketplace provide locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income people in food deserts and train local vendors to grow or prepare crops and produce marketable all year round.
Chancellor’s Honors College Artist-in-Residence and Lester Glenn Fant Professor Bruce Levingston said Winkle was “the most generous, noble and gifted of men”.
“A master teacher and inspirational mentor to generations of students and faculty, I was honored to teach a class with him,” said Levingston. “He treated each student with dignity and kindness and showed a deep and genuine interest in their future and well-being.
“He was a dear friend who leaves a huge void in this world. His legacy of love, compassion and intellectual curiosity will live on in all of us who were fortunate enough to know him.
Winkle is survived by his wife; son Johnny and wife Amy, of Atlanta; Jason and his wife Felicia, of Memphis; and Will, of Taylor; his brother, Joseph R.; six grandchildren, a niece and a nephew.
To make a memorial donation to the John W. Winkle III Endowment, send a contribution, with the endowment’s name written on the memo line of the check, to The University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655. To donate online, visit https://umfoundation.com/winkle.