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UM Professor, MS Constitution Expert Dies; Visitation Today

Courtesy of Waller Funeral Home

University of Mississippi Professor Emeritus John W. Winkle III died Sunday, October 23, 2022, at Regional One trauma center after a sudden brain hemorrhage.

John W. Winkle III

Visitation will be from 4-6 p.m. in West Hall at Waller Funeral Home in Oxford today. The funeral is set for 2 p.m. Thursday at the Oxford-University United Methodist Church.

A native of Rome, Georgia, Winkle came to the University of Mississippi in 1974 after earning his master’s and doctoral degrees in political science from Duke University.

Over the ensuing years, he taught numerous undergraduate and graduate courses in the department of political science, as well as the Honors 101 and Honors 102 course sequence and a range of special topics courses in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Most recently, an anonymous donor honored Winkle with a gift naming the John Winkle Reading and Research Room.

Although he officially retired in 2013, he was passionate about staying in the classroom and continued to create courses to teach in the honors college. At the time of his death, he was planning to take a class to Washington, DC as part of the experiential learning class “The Supreme Court in a Partisan Age.”

Winkle also served more than once as chair of the department of political science, as the first director of enrollment management for the university and led and served on numerous committees over the years.

His two-course sequence, “Constitutional Law” and “Civil Rights and Civil Liberties” were legendary among students as both challenging and transformative. He wrote hundreds of letters of recommendation for students for law school and other professional and graduate education. A multitude of his former students went on to law school, many to the top schools in the nation and the United Kingdom. They now serve as federal judges, law scholars, and professors. Others also serve as U.S. state department officials, state legislators, statewide elected officials, congressional aides, teachers, journalists, law enforcement officers, and well-read stay-at-home parents.

In addition, he also authored the definitive text on the Mississippi state constitution for Oxford University Press, published in 2014.

John Winkle UM photo by Nathan Latil.

Students and colleagues alike recognized his gifts in the classroom, service to the university, and as a researcher.

During his tenure at the university, Winkle won just about every teaching award the university offers, including The Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award, the Burlington-Northern Faculty Achievement Award, the Thomas Frist Student Service Award, and the Random Acts of Kindness Award.

His colleagues also recognized him with the Liberal Arts Excellence Award four times, the University Research Award four times, and the Graduate School Research Award four times.

In 1998, he garnered the Robert W. Harrison, Jr. Governing Boards Award, which is given to one faculty member in the state’s university system for contributions to higher education in Mississippi.

In spite of his many honors and awards, Winkle maintained that the greatest compliment he ever got was from a student from a rural, underfunded Mississippi school district who struggled in his class, but eventually passed it. “It was the hardest class I’ve ever had, but Dr. Winkle never made me feel stupid.”

His contributions went beyond the classroom and pushing back the boundaries of knowledge through research.

He was instrumental in the creation and formation of the university’s honors college, writing the eight-page vision statement as part of the proposal to donor Jim Barksdale and chaired the steering committee that crafted its mission and procedures.

He also proposed the creation of a leadership institute and guided the early stages of what later became the Trent Lott Leadership Institute.

Every entering Ole Miss student since 2008 has been touched by Winkle’s work when they pledge to honor the UM Creed during their first weeks on campus.

Winkle served as the faculty co-chair of the committee that conceived of and wrote the set of enduring guiding principles, which focus on respect, fairness and the pursuit of excellence for members of the University’s community of academic inquiry.

His work also extended beyond the walls of the university to serve the state of Mississippi. He testified before the Mississippi legislature numerous times, served as the recording secretary of the Judicial Advisory Study Committee and on the Mississippi Bar Association Commission on the Courts in the 21st Century, and helped research and prepare a landmark survey and study for the Mississippi Task Force for Gender Fairness in the Courts.

He also taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, Emory University, and King’s College in London as an invited visiting professor.

As a member of the Oxford community and a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, he coached youth baseball for numerous seasons, often driving to the poorest parts of the city to pick up players who had no transportation. He also coached an All-Star team or two with author John Grisham, and was subsequently delighted to find a character named Officer Winkle in “The Street Lawyer.” For many years, he prepared packages of baseball cards and memorabilia for the annual Christmas Store at First Presbyterian Church.

A long-time member of Oxford-University United Methodist Church, he served in numerous capacities over the years, including a lay reader and teaching a college-age Sunday School class.

He was also instrumental in organizing the Oxford Community Market and served as chair of its board of directors. He helped it become one of the first farmers’ markets in Mississippi to accept federal food aid SNAP benefits. In 2018, he helped write a $167,000 USDA grant to help the market get locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income people in food deserts and train local vendors to grow or prepare marketable crops and products year-round.

Winkle graduated from East Rome High School, where his class voted him “Most Likely to Succeed,” though he always jokingly maintained that he was robbed for “Wittiest.”

While an undergraduate at Mercer University, he served as class president, was an All-American in intercollegiate debate and won the prestigious Thomas Arkle Clark Award, which is given to one outstanding member each year by the national Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity organization.

He was the son of the late John W. Winkle Jr. and Elsie Hale Winkle of Rome, Georgia.

He is survived by his wife, Ellen Meacham of Taylor, three sons, Johnny Winkle (Amy) of Atlanta; Jason Winkle (Felicia) of Memphis; and Will Winkle of Taylor; his brother, Joseph R. Winkle (Kimberley) of Carmel, Indiana; six grandchildren, and a niece and nephew.

Donations may be made in his honor to the John W. Winkle III Fund for Faculty Excellence, which also funds scholarships for deserving students and UM Mock Trial team members through the University of Mississippi Foundation.

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