- Associated Press - Friday, June 30, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Eight decades after Gov. John Winant handed out spare change during the Great Depression, the former governor - depicted in a bronze statue - once again stands near the Statehouse with a handful of coins.

Winant, a three-term Republican governor, later became the first leader of the Social Security Administration and the U.S. ambassador to Britain during World War II.

But he dropped into obscurity, in part because of the way he died: After struggles with depression and debt, Winant shot himself in 1947. Members of a group that raised money for his statue say they hope it raises awareness not only of Winant’s bipartisan spirit and commitment to labor and social issues but also of the importance of mental health.

“I think we’ve come a long way as a culture in thinking about mental illness, and we should not be defined by our lowest and hopeless moment. We should be defined by our best moments,” sculptor J. Brett Grill said at a dedication ceremony Friday.

“In putting this sculpture out here, I think we’re returning an act of empathy and compassion back to him, the same thing he did to so many Britons and so many members of the New Hampshire and Concord community,” he said.

The statue unveiled outside the state library shows Winant with hat and coat in hand, inviting passers-by to join him on a bench. An hour after the ceremony ended and the crowd had left, a 50-cent piece and two quarters were placed in Winant’s hand.

Grill noted the contrast between his statue and others nearby on the Statehouse lawn, several of which depict American Revolution and Civil War notables portrayed on pedestals with “puffed up chests.”

“They’re wonderful sculptures. They’re relics of a time when heroism was a particular thing,” he said. “Now, heroism means something a little bit different to us, and I hope this sculpture embodies that. It greets people the way John Winant greeted people as governor, not from the third-floor corner office but down on the streets with an incredible amount of empathy and compassion.”

Winant arrived in London during the height of the Blitz, said Harriet Cross, British consul general to New England, and quickly became a tangible symbol “of the best of America” as he walked the streets, asking how he could help.

The ceremony was attended by Winant’s daughter-in-law and his grandson, who thanked New Hampshire for keeping his grandfather’s legacy alive. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said he has watched the work to build the memorial plaza and erect the statue with interest from his office across the street.

“He has been described by many as the most famous Granite Stater that nobody knows, and finally we get to give him and his family their rightful due,” Sununu said.

Democratic Rep. Steve Shurtleff, who led the fundraising effort for the memorial, said one word comes up repeatedly when historians are asked about Winant: humility.

“This memorial we are dedicating today to Gov. John Winant is far more than what he ever would have wanted, but far less than he deserves,” he said.

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