Winnie Weber: legislator was the Life of the Party

As a legislator in Jefferson City, Winnie Weber was known for her blunt talk, short skirts and a fondness for drink. For years, she held the unofficial but undisputed title of Life of the Party.

She was chairwoman of the House higher education committee and proud of her work to promote what now is Truman State University in Kirksville.

She died Tuesday (Feb. 9, 2010) at her home in Eminence, Mo., at age 73. She was recently bedridden with arthritis and osteoporosis, her family said.

A former teacher, Ms. Weber was a state representative from Jefferson County for a total of 16 years in the 1970s and '80s. In a county where politics is considered a full-contact sport, she fit right in.

"Bottom line, Hon, is that I'm just country folk," she said for a 1991 profile in the Post-Dispatch. "And country folk just tend to go off and do things and then ask later if they should've done it."

Winifred Pauline Faulkenberry was born in the Bible Belt on the Fourth of July in 1936, according to driver's license records, the third oldest of seven children.

The family moved when she was young to Eminence in Shannon County, where her father, a land surveyor, was elected mayor.

He had a habit of driving around town with pine seedlings in his car, stopping, getting out and planting a pine tree. It didn't matter that it was on somebody else's property.

Winnie likewise had a mind of her own.

When her high school held a Miss Eminence contest, Winnie announced that there was no sense in anyone else running because she had already bought her dress for the occasion. Declaring herself the winner, she and her girlfriends built their own float.

She graduated from Southwest Missouri State and earned a master's at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

After a brief marriage at a young age, she divorced and moved to House Springs. There, she rented a guest house on the property of Jefferson County Magistrate Glenn Weber, a powerhouse in the local Republican Party.

Weber fell for the 23-year-old schoolteacher with shapely legs, vivacious personality and raven hair — she had not yet turned blond. Although recently married, Weber got out of that marriage and married Winnie.

It didn't last long. Republican Weber and Democrat Winnie would go to bed and talk politics. Before long, one of them would end up sleeping on the couch.

In 1970, at 33 and divorced, she ran for the Legislature, campaigning in a red Corvette convertible.

By then, she knew nearly everyone in northern Jefferson County, either through Weber or by having taught voters' children.

She won, and won re-election two years later. In 1974, she ran for the state Senate and lost in the Democratic primary. She regained her House seat in 1976 and held it until 1988.

She decorated her office with photographs: Winnie dressed like Wonder Woman; Winnie with a smiling Lyndon Johnson; and, of course, Winnie in low-cut gowns.

Her office was a gathering place for legislators, regardless of party affiliation, lobbyists and reporters. It was a favorite stopover for Republican Gov. Christopher "Kit" Bond, now a U.S. senator.

"Winnie was a powerful advocate for her constituents, and a great ally to have on your side." Bond said Thursday.

Supporters said she was smart and deeply committed to advancing education in the state but figured she needed short skirts and blond hair to make the ol' boy network feel comfortable with her.

"She was a wildcat, and jumped out of a cake at the end of one (legislative) session," recalled a brother, Paul Faulkenberry, mayor of Eminence.

Ms. Weber herself made no bones about it: "Not only did I not avoid parties, I was the one who started them — and I was the one who'd be dancing on the table at it."

After an arrest for DWI in 1988, she lost her re-election bid. She tried again in 1990, but failed.

She returned to Eminence to open Winfield's, a bar, restaurant, store and her home, built from a rehabbed antique drugstore. Her brother said she hadn't had a drink in more than 20 years.

She never remarried, but in 1983, she met Buddy Lucas, who made millions selling textbooks at university bookstores. He was married but already separated. Winnie and Buddy lived together until 1990, when he died.

"I miss him very much," she said in the Post profile, and built a stone bench so she could sit next to his crypt in Columbia, Mo.

She returned one day to find her bench facing a missing crypt. Buddy's body has never been found.

"She died not knowing where he is buried," Paul Faulkenberry said.

Services will be at 2 p.m. Feb. 20 at Chapel Hill Mortuary & Memorial Gardens, 6300 Highway 30, Cedar Hill. Visitation will start at 11 a.m. that morning. Burial will be at the mortuary's cemetery.

In addition to her brother, survivors include two other brothers, Joe Faulkenberry of Eminence and V.T. Faulkenberry of Virginia Beach, Va.; and a sister, Paulette Williams of Eminence.
strategist February 12, 2010 11:04AM CST
Winnie would have loved this story, BUT she would have called you bright and early, around 10 a.m., to correct the awful mistakes on dates. Winnie was truly one of a kind. She made some mistakes but she overcame her addiction and, in her final performance she created something worthwhile in Eminence. Still, I find it fitting that she chose to come "home" to Jefferson County for her final goodbye. I won't tell you what she made me promise to do at her funeral. May she rest in peace.
May she truly rest in peace.
strategist February 12, 2010 11:28AM CST
We must add, that as a freshman rep, Winnie was responsible for the passage of two critical bills that set the standard for nursing home care in Missouri and education of developmentally disabled students. With an IQ of 150 Winnie knew how to cross the aisle and use a party to get a lot of work done. She was truly always a champion of the innocents.
Kate Faulkenberry Godby February 12, 2010 3:18PM CST
The family will receive friends and family members at Chapel Hill Mortuary and Memorial Gardens, 6300 Hwy 30, Cedar Hill, MO, 63016 at 11:00am to 2:00pm, Saturday, 20 Feb 2010. The funeral will be conducted at 2:00 pm in the Chapel Hill chapel. Interment will follow in the Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens cemetery. The family will share private visitation at 10:00am.