“Buckshot” Winfree dead at 71, probable drowning
(Editor’s note: Autopsy reports later said Winfree died due to a heart attack.)
The Record has just learned that Lester Winfree, 71, prominent Orange businessman and president of the Port of Orange has died, possibly due to drowning. Judge Janice Menard, Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace pronounced Winfree dead at about 4 p.m. today. According to people on the scene, Winfree was found in shallow water near a dock on his property
Last year Lester Winfree received a lifetime honor when the Port of Orange’s new security center was named for him. Winfree has served on the port’s board since 1980 and is the current president.
For the 50th anniversary of The Penny Record, he was named The Record Newspapers’ 2010 Person of the Year.
At the port ceremony in 2009 to honor “Buckshot,” as he is sometimes called, Winfree was presented a large framed photograph of the port’s Alabama Street terminal entrance.
Born June 24, 1939, at Francis Ann Lutcher Hospital in Orange, Winfree attended Prairie View School in the Winfree Community and was a 1957 Stark High School graduate.
He supported and donated so much to local youth because he believed they are the “future of tomorrow.” His charitable work included the Young Man’s Business League, Orange County livestock shows and many local fundraisers of various types. He retired from the trucking business in 2007.
Winfree married Barbara July 10, 1964. The couple had a daughter, Elizabeth Neely and three sons: Kirk Dillard, Dr. Leslie Holtkamp and Will Winfree.
Buckshot grew up riding horses and roping cattle and buffalo and still lived on family land.
His family roots go back to 1831, when great-great-grandfather Abraham Winfree settled on the land when it belonged to Mexico. Abraham Winfree had a stop along the Opelousas Trail, a cattle trail through Texas and Louisiana. Cowboys driving cattle would stay there overnight and Abraham kept a 20-acre pen for the cattle.
Winfree family history says Republic of Texas soldiers, traveling with captured Mexican Gen. Santa Ana to New Orleans after the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836, stopped at Abraham’s and spent the night. Abraham was also friends with Claiborne West (the park’s namesake) who lived in the Cow Bayou settlement and signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.
When Lester started his trucking company in the late 1960s with two trucks, he named it Winfree Cattle and Rice, because the family at the time still grew rice. The trucking company grew, so he didn’t have to mess with hauling cattle after awhile and he concentrated on rice. Even 35 years ago, Orange County still had several rice farmers and the Orange Rice Mill continued to operate along the Sabine River where the county jail sits today.
When Orange’s farmers quit growing rice, Winfree’s trucking company found business in other parts of the state, including from areas around Beaumont, Bay City and El Campo.
And after a few years, Winfree’s trucking company prospered enough so he didn’t have to drive the 18-wheel truck rigs. Instead, he hired drivers and independent truckers for his network. By the time he sold the business, he had about 50 trailers and seven or eight trucks.
More than 20 years ago, Buckshot and local businessman Charlie Wickersham had partnership to buy the world’s largest rice dryer at the Port of Houston.
They have since sold the property.
A few years ago Winfree and his sister sold the land on the east side of Texas 62, the land where their father, the late Laurence Winfree lived for years.
Laurence had a herd of buffalo for more than 60 years, even when the animals were rare. A photograph was taken when Lester was about 10 or 12, riding and roping his father’s buffalo at a rodeo.
Laurence also kept a collection of horse-pulled buggies and wagons, including a hearse and a circus wagon. He liked to take them to local festivals, where he took children for rides. Lester, who had also taken many children for rides, had sold some of the antique transportation, but also kept some.