John West became governor in 1971 during a time of great change and racial conflict. His election was seen by many, including West himself, as a repudiation of divisive, racial politics. Among West’s major accomplishments as governor were the passage of mandatory automobile insurance for all drivers and the creation of the Housing Authority and Human Affairs Commission. West was also the first governor in over a century to appoint an African-American to an official state position when he named James E. Clyburn assistant to the governor for Human Resource Development.
One of West’s most striking memories of the Mansion was of the trustees and his first moments within the home. “Of course, we knew that all of the help were convicts, they were from the penitentiary. I walked through the house introducing myself, and [walked] into the kitchen, there was a black man, a cook with a large hat on. He turned to me and he said, ‘Lord, Mr. West, you knows me. Your firm defended me. Us lost.’ So, that was my introduction to the help at the Governor's Mansion. And of course, over the years there, we developed a real relationship with them and a real respect for the rehabilitation that comes from the penitentiary system, particularly those working there.”
When asked how he and wife Lois handled concurrent events, West noted,“Well, frequently I would show up at one and she [at] the other one and maybe we would mingle during the social hour at one and go and have dinner at the other. It was a constant challenge but a real reward because the people appreciated the hospitality, the ‘southern hospitality.’”
Among Mrs. West’s activities as First Lady was the establishment of a horticulture program for the mentally disabled which provided flower arrangements to decorate the State House and Governor’s Mansion. She also oversaw the completion of the renovation of the Lace House on the Mansion grounds.
Asked for her favorite memory, Mrs. West said,“One of the things that John did is he would invite members of the legislature to come and spend the weekend. And we invited them to come and bring somebody they wanted to bring with them. And so, they would come and we'd plan the weekend around what they wanted to do, and they enjoyed it and it was fun for us, we got to really know them. And we made some very close friends that we still have to this day.”
Visit SCPC to learn more about Governor West and his collection.