21 November 2022

The Lives of Great Men

 Earlier this month, a dear man in my life unexpectedly died.  His wife, Ellen, asked me to speak at his funeral.  It was an honor and a privilege.  I have re-created below, to the best of my ability, my remarks.  As Ellen said afterwards, "As John would have wanted, you didn't read from a transcript, but do the best you can to transcribe it for me."  

The funeral order of service called my remarks "A Word of Witness" - how perfectly appropriate. My  Methodist brothers and sisters will teach me new things when I least expect it.  

A Word of Witness at the Funeral Service for John Wilson Winkle 

When Ellen was in touch this past weekend to let me know that we would too soon lose John,  I was untethered.  I went into a Faulnerian, southern gothic wailing and mourning.  I took to the bed.  In the early part of the week, after John had died, I would tell friends when they asked about my puffy face, "Dr. Winkle, a beloved professor of mine, died unexpectedly."   And it seemed odd to me that I was wracked with sobs for a man I kept referring to by his surname.

When Ellen was in touch to ask if I would represent John's students here today, I realized why I was untethered.  It was because of that exact tension.  For hundreds, if not thousands, John Winkle was that beautiful harmony of authority and friend.  

And in that, he imaged his Creator.  

In 2002, I matriculated at Ole Miss, at John's beloved Honors College.  He was an idea guy, and Dr. Sullivan-Gonzales, Dr. Sammonds, and others had taken that idea and were running with it.  I was an early recipient of theirs - and others' - determination to serve the students of Mississippi.  When I was registering for classes, John Winkle's name popped up as having an Honors 101 section.  My father suggested I take it - because he had had Dr. Winkle at Ole Miss 25 years before and declared him one of the best teachers of his life.  I didn't like the time the class was and, at 18, didn't think my daddy really knew much. 

But, in the spring of my freshman year, I was longing for Mock Trial.  I had competed and loved it in high school and learned that there was a national collegiate competition, but that Ole Miss didn't have a program.  Daddy suggested I email John Winkle to help me get one started.  And this time I listened.  

And so, John and I began together.  He didn't really know a lot about Mock Trial, but he just did the thing - because he had a student who was interested in doing it.  And he loved it with me.  

We formed a team.  And in that, John taught me the beginnings of how to lead.  

In the fall of my sophomore year, I did two things that changed my life forever.  I got pregnant (accidentally - being nineteen and unmarried) with my first chid and I enrolled in Dr. Winkle's Con Law class.  In that, I had the best teacher I've ever had - and became a permanent teacher to my daughter.  

For three years, John and I led the Mock Trial program together.  He laughed and served - and stayed in awful hotels with us.  He let us be young - but he occasionally had one beer with us, and took joy in that moment where we let him into our youth.  

John was not one to blur boundaries - always holding that godly tension of authority and friend.  He managed to let us in without letting down the waterline of his own household.  But being a single Mama gave me an "in" if you will, and Ellen entered my life.  

John and Ellen nurtured and loved - and yet respected and never interfered.  They recognized that I was a  child and yet a mother, and they quietly expected me to grow up.  

And when John expected something of you, you wanted to do it.  So, I set about becoming an adult.  And adults have people for supper.  When my husband and I became engaged, we invited the Meacham Winkles for supper.  I made this old chicken pasta dish of my mother's, which is very good.  When it is served hot.  Unfortunately, with all my swirling around trying to make my little apartment hospitable and grown-up, I put supper on the table quite cold.  He saw that I was trying to do what he expected of me and that I needed encouragement to keep at it.  He could have criticized or advised - instead he grinned and ate every bite and lied and told me it was so good.  

During my wedding preparations, we decided we would have only family.  I had one of the larger wedding arguments with my mother about John and Ellen.  I said, "Only family sounds good - except the Winkle Meachams."  Mama said, "No.  It will open up a can of worms."  I said, "John and Ellen will be there."  I got my way very little during wedding planning with my mother, but that was one I won.  

John was my advisor for my honors college thesis, and after I graduated, he became a consistent life advisor as well. I would write long emails processing through my various quarter-life crises.  These were mostly self-indulgent, but he would always respond with the advice I was asking for.  At one particular time, he responded with a long, exhortative and encouraging message.  In it, he said: 

We, you and I, love to read and to think and to study and to read and to think some more.  We are perennial students.  We embrace the intellectual enterprise.  I did not change who I am to become a college professor.  I became a college professor because of who I am.  

John Winkle was willing to exhort, and yet was always for me.  Ellen remarked in his obituary that John had always lamented losing out the title of wittiest in high school.  But I know why he lost.  Though he was a man of a quick and rapier wit, he was too earnest for witty to characterize him fully.  

It was very difficult to disappoint John Winkle.  Not because he was a relativist, but because he was humble.  It simply wasn't about him.  It was about service to others - to the world he was given to serve.  In this, John imaged his God yet again - and this time his Savior.  

I am a committed Presbyterian, so I know that one cannot work his way to heaven.  But if one could, John would be a candidate.  

Longfellow wrote a great poem called Psalm of Life, and the last three stanzas represents what John Winkle was to his hundreds of students.  

Lives of great men all remind us 
   We can make our lives sublime, 
And, departing, leave behind us 
   Footprints on the sands of time; 

Footprints, that perhaps another, 
   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main, 
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, 
   Seeing, shall take heart again. 

Let us, then, be up and doing, 
   With a heart for any fate; 
Still achieving, still pursuing,     
   Learn to labor and to wait. 


Why is John so great in the memories of his students who still remember him as Dr. Winkle? Why do we, when shipwrecked, look back and take heart?  Why does his mere memory make me want to be up and doing for any fate?  He was delightful and witty and bright and kind.  But there was that something extra.  

In that letter in which John was exhorting me, he ended with a sentence which I believe encapsulates what he gave each of us.  

"Ann Lowrey - I have the utmost confidence in you.  I always have.  John."  






  1. Beautifully written. Wish I would have known him, too.

  2. I, too, didn’t know him. He sounds inspirational. So do you.

  3. Made me cry! He was the absolute best professor and an even better man. I was so privileged to get to go to his room dedication and see him just a week before he was gone. And I’ll never forget being in they constitutional convention class with you and Paul - I knew then y’all would be end up together! ❤️