jwest.jpgJohn Carl West, the former governor of South Carolina, died on March 21 from cancer. He was 81.
West graduated from The Citadel and attained the rank of Army major during World War II for deciphering Japanese signals for the Pentagon. At the end of the war, he served in Japan as part of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey and earned an Army Commendation Medal. In 1946, he returned to the states, obtained a law degree from the University of South Carolina and delved into politics.
West was elected as a Democrat to the state Senate in 1954 and became the state’s lieutenant governor in 1967. When he won the gubernatorial race in 1970, West pledged to rid the state government of “any vestige of discrimination” and to make it “colorblind.” Known as a man who embraced change, West hired James Clyburn as a senior aide. Clyburn later ran the State Human Affairs Commission that West set up in 1972, and became the state’s first black U.S. representative since Reconstruction.
During his tenure as governor, West created a state housing authority to run programs to help low-income individuals and families obtain affordable housing. He also passed a law that required mandatory auto insurance for all drivers and vetoed a bill re-establishing capital punishment. The Legislature later overrode the veto.
Once his term in office ended in 1975, West set up law practices in Camden and Hilton Head, S.C. Two years later, President Jimmy Carter appointed him ambassador to Saudi Arabia, where he served until 1981. His final years were spent teaching Middle East studies at the University of South Carolina. The John C. West Forum on Politics and Policy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic leadership institute, was established at USC in 2002.