WINSTON M. BETHEA: 1917-2009; He Championed Mentally Disabled Starting in 1960, Bethea Helped Groups Devoted to Aiding Handicapped

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Byline: JESSIE-LYNNE KERR

Winston M. Bethea, who devoted more than four decades to improving the quality of life for mentally handicapped people, died of pneumonia Wednesday at the Acosta-Rua Center for Caring of Community Hospice of Northeast Florida. He was 91.

The family will receive visitors from 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday at Town and Country Funeral Home, 7242 Normandy Blvd., where the funeral will be at 2 p.m. Burial will be in Riverside Memorial Park Cemetery.

A native of Jacksonville, Mr. Bethea graduated from the old Immaculate Conception High School, which he attended on a football scholarship. He began his career with the Seaboard Air Line Railroad in 1937 and retired 41 years later from the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad as freight agent for Jacksonville and Baldwin. His railroad career was interrupted during World War II, when he served in the Army from 1943 to 1946.

It was the birth of his mentally handicapped son, Ronald, that propelled Mr. Bethea to become a champion of the mentally handicapped by seeking to improve their quality of life.

Between 1960 and 1999, when his son died at the age of 52, Mr. Bethea was passionate about his involvement with groups that aided the mentally handicapped. In 1960 he helped establish the Pine Castle school and sheltered workshop, and three years later organized the Sunland Parent Group of Duval County.

In 1965 he was a leader in organizing the Duval Association for Retarded Citizens and in the 1980s helped provide group homes for 24 mentally handicapped adults. …