December 1, 1996
Claude O. Winston had some surprise guests at his Oct. 31 retirement party, which marked an end to 43 years at the medical center. Crammed within the crowd of nearly 100 well-wishers--including former and current deans and chancellors--was a large box containing about 40 tiny chicks.
"Claude kept saying that he was going to retire to his country house in Mississippi and raise chickens," said Lita Baptiste, supervisor of building services and Winston's supervisor the past three years. "We thought we would start him off right." Winston, 62, who retired as a project assistant in the facilities services department, accepted being feted with fowl in the good-natured manner that is his custom--chuckling as he picked up a tiny chick from the group and lifted it for the crowd to see. The little bird was engulfed in the large hand of the former amateur boxer who towered over most of his guests, resulting in a Kodak moment that set the flashbulbs popping. The size of the crowd gathered to bid Winston farewell said volumes about the popularity of the man who started as a custodian at Tulane in 1953 at the age of 18. "Everyone in the institution knows of Claude," Baptiste said.
"He's just really pleasant to work with." The medical center was a vastly different place 43 years ago, Winston said in an interview before his party. "When I first came here, it was not integrated," he said. "Blacks were in various custodial positions, and there were blacks in the labs but they were glass washers, not technicians." Winston may have started as a custodian, but he quickly rose through the ranks to work in the mail room, the copy office and as a slide projectionist. Eventually, he became an assistant to Tim Grayson, a 50-year veteran of the facilities services department, and was made an assistant manager of custodial services in 1989. Earl Bihlmeyer, associate vice chancellor for facilities and services at the medical center, said Winston's retirement marked the passing of an era. "It's something special you don't see too much anymore," Bihlmeyer said.
"Claude grew up in this city, went away to serve his country, came back and got a job and stayed for his entire life. He gave his life to this institution." Winston said that one of the highlights of his Tulane career was when former chancellor Neal Vanselow asked him to serve on the search committee for an associate vice chancellor for finance at the medical center in 1991. The search resulted in the hiring of Tony Lorino, now senior vice president for operations and chief financial officer for the university. "My theory is to be good to Tulane and Tulane will be good to you," Winston said. "Many doors opened to me because I was part of Tulane. I sent my children to college through working here." Some of his family even joined him as Tulane employees. "My mother also worked at Tulane as a linen attendant and at the front desk," he said. "My oldest boy is currently working as a security officer here."
Certain to be missed will be Winston's annual bestowing of coveted coconuts from the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. Coconuts hand-painted by the medical center's most prominent Zulu member grace offices throughout the medical center. Besides raising chickens and riding in Zulu, Winston also plans to remain active in his church and as a volunteer at the Lutheran Home of New Orleans for senior citizens. "I will miss all of the friends, both doctors and coworkers, that I made over the years at Tulane," Winston said.
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