SALEM, OR (KPTV) - Family, friends and colleagues gathered at the Oregon state capitol in Salem on Thursday to remember the life of Senator Jackie Winters.

A woman known for breaking barriers, she was the first African American Republican to be elected to the Oregon legislature in 1998 and went on to become the first African American Republican Caucus Leader.

“She earned those titles by virtue of her relentless spirit,” said Oregon Governor Kate Brown. “She saw the best in everyone and she saw hope in their future.”

Winters passed away on May 29th at the age of 82 after a battle with cancer.

Born in Kansas, she was raised in Portland and survived the Vanport Flood as a young girl. She went on to marry the love of her life, Ted Winters, and even started a Salem restaurant called Jackie’s Ribs in 1985.

Friends and colleagues say she was a natural born leader who helped create the Oregon Food Share Program, and was known for her character, kindness, confidence and heart.

Her legislative legacy may be Senate Bill 1008, a youth sentencing reform bill that just passed in April, on the last day she was ever on the senate floor.

“I don’t even know how you sum up Jackie Winters,” said Rep. Jennifer Williamson, the Oregon House Majority Leader who worked closely with Winters on the bill. “We are a lucky state to have had her serve us for so very long.”

Winters was a woman who relied heavily on her Christian faith and believed deeply in the power of rehabilitation and second chances.

Her staffer, Tayleranne Gillespie, shared a story about traveling to Washington D.C. with Winters and visiting the memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I teared up as I watched this tiny woman look up at this huge statue of a man whose actions and life’s work paved the way for her to be there that day,” she said.

“She was her own person,” added longtime friend Sen. Ginny Burdick, the Senate Majority Leader. “No party told her what do to, no person told her what to do. She did what she thought was the right thing.”

Governor Brown announced a tribute to her legacy at the service Thursday:

“We are naming the newly-remodeled Youth Challenge campus in Bend in her honor,” the Governor said.

Winters is survived by a brother, four children, two step-children and a large extended family including 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

“She gave back that powerful force and spirit to the giver who gave it to her, Jesus Christ,” Winters’ son, Anthony McClain said. “Mom, you can now rest in peace.”

Copyright 2019 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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