Seventy years after his death, the life and accomplishments of John Gilbert Winant were honored Friday during a statue dedication ceremony in Concord.
Complete with a military band, prominent politicians and no shortage of cameras, it was just the kind of show Winant would have hated.
“Imagine if you can that he is here with us, right now, uncomfortably listening to us recount his good deeds,” remarked Mike Hirschfeld, rector of St. Paul’s School, where Winant graduated and would later teach. “In my mind’s eye, I can see him shuffling uneasily, and awkwardly looking down at his feet, embarrassed by our praise.”
The statue project, which was paid for through private donations, was led in part by Van McLeod, who passed away last year, and by New Hampshire House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff.
“One word that always seems to come up, that he was a man of great humility. So this memorial that we are dedicating today to Governor John Winant is far more than what he would have ever wanted. But far less than what he deserves,” said Shurtleff, who served as master of ceremonies.
Winant, who served as a pilot in World War I, would become New Hampshire’s first three-term Governor--a progressive Republican who became famous for his acts of personal charity during the Great Depression.
“It is an honor to recognize someone, frankly, a true son of the state of New Hampshire, and represented everything we know and believe in as part of that ‘live free or die’ spirit,” said the current governor, Chris Sununu.
In 1941, Winant was appointed to his highest public role, Ambassador to the United Kingdom. This was before America’s entry into the war, a time when the British people were living under constant German bombing campaigns.
“His warmth and his compassion, and his determination to stand with them, and share their dangers, was the first tangible sign for the British that America and its people really cared what happened to them,” remarked Harriet Cross, British Consul General to New England. “And so he became a symbol of the best side of America, and that's what we are celebrating today.”
The statue of Winant is gracious, a bronze figure near life-size, posed with hat in hand. A park bench installed next to it beckons passers-by to sit and spend time with the man. It’s the work of artist Brett Grill, who is based in Michigan.
He spoke of the challenges of capturing Winant, who in 1947 took his own life after a battle with depression.
“I think that we’ve come a long way as a culture in thinking about mental illness. And that we should not be defined by our lowest and hopeless moments. But we should be defined by our best moments.”
Many members of John Winant’s family were on hand, thankful that his legacy will live on in the state he loved.