October 13, 2023

Flashback Friday: The late Governor William Winter on politics and leadership

Therese Apel

2016 photo of the late Governor William Winter. Photo: Therese Apel

Editor’s note: I was so lucky as to interview late Governor William Winter on this day in 2016, and these words have stuck with me ever since. We talked about so many inspirational things, but right at the end I asked him if he had any advice for the soldiers, politicians, and difference-makers of today based on his experiences. I transcribed this straight from my recording of the interview, and to this day I’m still amazed at how the words just rolled out of him, and how very sincere he was about them. Public figures, politicians, leaders of today: What are you doing to be on a level where you’re remembered for your public service, not for your self-promotion?

“I have some words that I look in the mirror and tell myself more than anything else. I’m not giving advice to anybody but myself.

My basic feeling is that we have enough spiritual strength and material strength in this country to prevail against any of the perils that now present themselves.

Let us not give in to fear. Let us not do things that will damage our country from the standpoint of individual rights and liberties. Let us not be so afraid of what somebody else may do to us as we’re afraid of what we may do to ourselves out of fear. Let that not be the driving force. Let us move forward with confidence in the integrity of our system, the greatest political system in the world. Let us not injure that system.

Let us not diminish the dignity of individual human beings. Let us look at each other all as children of God — of the same God — and recognize that the things that bind us together are so much stronger than the things that would divide us. Let us not let those who for whatever purpose, political or otherwise, would lead us down that dead end where we find ourselves battling each other rather than battling the real enemy. The real enemy of course is meanness and greed and evil, however that may be expressed.

Let us continue to be a light, a shining light — as President Reagan said one time, a shining light on a hill — and let that be a symbol of justice and equity and respect and dignity for people all over the world. And let that be the image that this country has, not an image of a country that is not fair to its own people. Let us have a system where we treat each other right, treat each other with dignity and not let anybody be left out. We have too many people in this country being left out based frankly on a social and racial basis rather than anything else.

I’ve often said I consider myself one of the most fortunate people who ever lived to come along at this time in history. It’s been a mind-expanding experience for me to see the changes that have taken place in my own thoughts and my own outlook and recognize that I have been a minor participant in this great transformation that this country’s undergone, the world has undergone. So it’s a challenge rather than a sense of being afraid of these changes, it’s a challenge to adapt to them and not be afraid of change. This is one of the things I think that holds us back, we’re afraid of that which we don’t know anything about. That scares us so we resist change. Not all change is good, but so much change makes this a better world.

It takes relationships, it takes being willing to sit down with people, to mix with other people who are different from us and understand where they’re coming from and let them understand where we’re coming from, and that basically we all want about the same thing. And if we work together we can accomplish so much more than if we stay divided, and I think that’s particularly true in politics.”

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