Longtime Wake County Commissioner Dr. James West dies at 79

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Tuesday, November 21, 2023
Wake County Commissioner Dr. James West dies at 79
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Longtime Wake County Commissioner Dr. James West died suddenly Friday at the age of 79.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Longtime Wake County Commissioner Dr. James West died unexpectedly Friday. He was 79.

Friends and colleagues came together Sunday to remember West for his commitment to public service and dedication to the community.

Wake County Board of Commissioners chair Shinica Thomas spoke with ABC11 and said West had a huge influence on her.

"I cried, I still get teary-eyed about it. Dr. West is such an impactful person in our community and just on this board, like he's really my buddy, he's been a great mentor to me, for the three years that I've been on this board and it's what I hear from all commissioners that've served before me," Thomas said.

On Monday, at the Wake County Commissioners meeting, his colleagues remembered him in what proved to be an emotional day.

"One thing that was clear, was in this community, he was a force," said Commissioner Matt Calabria. "And he got a great deal done, and he did great things and he did it in the right way."

West, a 13-year commissioner, had a career of public service; advocating for the underserved and working with other commissioners to advance the lives of all Wake County residents.

"When he got angry about something, or just upset, he was like, I'm going to fight until hell freezes over. And then I'm going to fight on the ice," Thomas said Monday.

Thomas began the meeting with a resolution in honor of West and followed by sharing moments and memories that will last a lifetime.

"This is really hard, not only for us as a county, for us as a board. But also for us as a community of someone that gave so much," Commissioner Don Mial said.

Calabria recalled that West "used to say he was high touch but not high tech. And he sent me one text, and it was the day my daughter was born. And I always cherish that."

In the usual spot where West would sit, there was instead an array of flowers for the man many referred to as a "pillar of public service" and a trailblazer -- a key figure in the county's Live Well Wake initiative and staunch advocate for affordable housing opportunities.

"But most of all, Dr. West was, and always will be, someone that I was blessed to call a friend. And I will truly miss him. Thank you." said County Manager David Ellis, his voice shaking with emotion.

Democratic Congressman Wiley Nickel released a statement following the news of West's passing:

"I'm deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Wake County Commissioner Dr. James West," Nickel said. "For years, Commissioner West faithfully served and delivered results for the people of Wake County. He was a trailblazer in the fight for civil rights and equality in North Carolina. My thoughts are with his family, friends, and loved ones during this trying time."

Wake County Sheriff Willie Rowe also posted a statement on social media:

"Commissioner West strived to represent and give a voice to all," Rowe wrote. "We're forever grateful for his commitment to public safety, equal access to overall quality of life, and the legacy of service that will continue to make a difference in the lives of many."

Funeral arrangements are pending.