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Leo Winters

Oklahoman Published: March 8, 2005
Obituaries/Death Notices

WINTERS Leo, former State Treasurer and Lieutenant Governor, died Saturday, March 5, 2005, in Oklahoma City. He was 82 years old. Winters was born November 7, 1922, in Hooker, Oklahoma, to David and Gertrude Winter, who were German immigrants from the Ukraine. His mother died when he was nine months old, and he was the stepson of Johanna Winter. On his first day in school, six-year-old Leo Winters could not speak or understand a word of English. However, he finished the year as the pupil with the highest scholastic average. He told friends he remained an academic success throughout his school days, but that he "might have been remembered by my teachers as inordinately mischievous. Winters rode a freight train to Panhandle State University at Goodwell and borrowed $3.45 from the college registrar to make up the $10.80 needed for enrollment. He was on the debate team and the football team, but left college after Pearl Harbor to join the Army Air Corps. He became a B-17 pilot in Africa and the Mediterranean, and after the war in Europe ended, he was trained in B-29s and sent to the Pacific. After the war he remained stationed in Alaska preparing B-29s for a counterattack against the Soviet Union in the event of nuclear war. After 5-1/2 years of active duty, Winters returned to Panhandle State University to finish his B.A. and to teach school. He established an undefeated record in debate and public speaking, competing against major academic institutions. Winters earned a law degree from the University of Oklahoma School of Law in 1957. His second case after entering law practice was a libel case against True magazine for claiming that the OU football team was being doped in its record string of 47 consecutive victories. He won a judgment that was the highest actual damage libel award to that date in U.S. history. He was Secretary of the Oklahoma State Election Board from 1955 through 1963. During that time the Wagoner County voting scandals were discovered, and Winters was pressured to take a passive role. Instead, he pressed forward an aggressive investigation that resulted in prison sentences for forging ballots. Winters was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1962, defeating one of Oklahoma's best known political names. In 1966, Winters entered the race for State Treasurer on a pledge to require banks to pay interest on all idle state funds, further promising to set the rate at an equivalent level with rates paid for private savings accounts. He won without a runoff against four well-known candidates, some with virtually unlimited campaign budgets supported by major banks. Winters carried out his program in the face of a storm of pressure from partisans favorable to the big banks, collecting over $1 billion more in interest than all the treasurers before him in the state's history. At the same time he increased the efficiency of his department, taking pride in the fact he never requested a budget increase during 33 years of managing departments of state government. From the time he was in his teens, Winters was active in the horse industry, from match races on dusty rural roads to stakes winners at America's premier Quarter Horse tracks. In 1988 he was elected President of the American Quarter Horse Association. Winters was named to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and received an Honorary Doctorate of Law from the New England School of Law in Boston. Winters was predeceased by three sons: Kenneth Barnard Winters and Philip Vance Winters, both infants, and Leo Winters II, an attorney in Oklahoma City. His surviving family includes his daughter Juliana M. Winters, an Atlanta attorney, stepdaughter Stephanie Gallad, a telecommunications consultant in Indianapolis, Indiana; daughter Lisa Maria Winters of Oklahoma City; son John Justin Winters who teaches at OU; granddaughter Jenny Kathryn Winters of Oklahoma City; five sisters, Mary Spencer, Selma Witzke, Martha Witzke, Vera Ruth Neff and Anita Uphaus. He is also survived by eight nieces and nephews and 22 great nieces and nephews. A memorial service, with reception following, will be held at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 4400 Shartel, Oklahoma City on March 19, 2005, at 2:00. In lieu of flowers the family requests donations to the Leo Winters Memorial Fund, Panhandle State University, P.O. Box 430, Goodwell, OK 73939.

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