Former governor, WWII ambassador to Britain getting his due

AP News
|
Posted: Jul 30, 2016 10:40 AM
Former governor, WWII ambassador to Britain getting his due

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Publicly, John Gilbert Winant was a three-term New Hampshire governor, the first leader of the Social Security Administration and U.S. ambassador to Britain during World War II. Privately, he battled depression and massive debt. He shot himself just as his memoirs were about to be published in 1947.

Winant, who died at age 58, faded into obscurity until recent years, when a group formed in New Hampshire to raise money for a statue. Its members and other community leaders believe the stigma around Winant's suicide kept him out of New Hampshire schoolchildren's lessons and books.

They hope the statue will encourage more discussion about his commitment to labor and social issues, his spirit of bipartisanship, his role during the war, and a better recognition of mental health problems.

"I hope it allows us to finally have an adult conversation about mental suffering that we've never had," said John Broderick, a former state Supreme Court chief justice and part of a new statewide project on mental health awareness.

Broderick's own son, whose signs of mental illness went unnoticed for years, attacked him in 2002 and went to prison before getting help.

Broderick said he believes that if Winant had died of, say, heart disease, many more people would have heard of him.

Broderick and others learned about Winant after reading a 2010 book, "Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour" by Lynne Olson. It profiled him, broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and diplomat Averell Harriman.

As governor before and during the Great Depression, Winant, a Republican, successfully advocated for a minimum-wage bill; an emergency credit act allowing the state to guarantee debts of local governments; and a commission that led to the creation of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, which promotes the creation of art.

He successfully intervened in a national textile workers strike at the request of Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt.

He handed out change to people in need. He also tried to help people get jobs. Bill Dunlap, head of the New Hampshire Historical Society, said one of them was his grandfather, who told Winant about how he lost his job at a farm supplies company. Winant found him a state government position.

Winant was considered a potential Republican presidential candidate, but his support for Roosevelt's New Deal policies, including Social Security, ended those discussions.

Roosevelt appointed Winant to replace Joseph Kennedy as ambassador in 1941. Winant helped strengthen former Prime Minister Churchill's relationship with Roosevelt.

Winant also was very popular among the British people. As Germany bombed London, Winant offered help in the streets.

He was ambassador for five years, then saw his and Roosevelt's aspirations for a unified postwar world "evaporating before his eyes" amid the Cold War, said Richard Hesse, a University of New Hampshire School of Law professor emeritus.

When Roosevelt died in 1945, Winant's political life was "essentially over," and his health worsened, he said.

The bronze statue, to be dedicated next spring, is being created by Missouri artist J. Brett Grill, whose statue of President Gerald Ford is in the U.S. Capitol. It shows Winant with hat and coat in hand, inviting passers-by to join him on a bench.

Democratic state Rep. Steve Shurtleff of Concord, project leader, said some money will go toward scholarships.

"We want to keep his name alive," he said.