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Former leaders remember West

NATCHEZ — Local leaders said they will remember Theodore “Bubber” West for his years of service, ability to mediate, and devotion to his family.

West was a public servant in Natchez for more than 37 years. He most recently served as Ward 4 alderman from 1991 to 2008.

He died Wednesday of apparent natural causes, likely acute congestive heart failure, Coroner James Lee said.

Former Mayor Phillip West said his memories span beyond Bubber West’s political service.

“I used to play basketball in his parent’s backyard,” Phillip West said. “Growing up with him and his family was a good experience.”

Phillip West and others said Bubber West followed in the footsteps of his father, George F. West Sr., who was the first black alderman of Natchez.

Former Mayor Larry L. “Butch” Brown said he got to know West in the 1960s and 1970s through West’s father because he was the first black enrollee in the business school at Natchez campus of University of Southern Mississippi, where Brown taught.

Phillip said while he and West sometimes disagreed on key issues, they never lost the ability to respect each other and work together for the larger community.

Brown said West shared his family’s passion for change and solutions to problems in a racially mixed community.

“The West family has always been an integral part of the fabric of Natchez, Mississippi,” Brown said. “Big family, big hearts.”

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis also knew West before they shared a table at the Council Chambers, she said, because she taught his children in school.

“He was a wonderful parent,” Mathis said.

Professionally, Mathis said West was a mediator among board members. He also shared with her his wealth of knowledge about his experiences on the board.

“He had a lot of insight about the way things could be handled,” she said.

Former City Attorney Walter Brown said West prompted the rehabilitation of the old Buick dealership into the Natchez Community Center.

“(West) wanted (the center) as a place for folks who wanted something less grand than the convention center that they could afford for family reunions,” Brown said.

As a member of the planning commission, West made sure to stress the importance of developing all areas of Natchez, not just areas that reflected growth, Brown said.

Mathis said West spearheaded various projects to bring up the standard of living at Minor Street, which West said in 2008 was the worst drug infested, crime ridden area in Natchez. Improvements included the development of Concord Park.

“He had the pulse of the people,” Butch Brown said of West.

West worked under four mayors, David Armstrong, Brown, Hank Smith and Phillip West.

For 12 years prior to being sworn in as alderman, West served on the Natchez Planning Commission, and for approximately eight years prior he served on the municipal election committee.

His mother also served as an alderwoman, and his brothers served on other boards including the Natchez-Adams School Board, economic development authority and Natchez Regional Medical Center board.

West’s political career — and the months following it — were not without trouble though.

The owner of West Funeral Home, West pleaded guilty in July 2010 to three counts of conversion of pre-need funeral funds, a federal crime, and was sentenced to one-year house arrest and probation.

Natchez Association for the Preservation of African American Culture Director Darrell White said West should be remembered, though, for serving Natchez in the footsteps of his family.

“Although (West) experienced some hardship of his own doing, we must not forget the good and try to remember the good that he did,” White said.

Walter Brown said during West’s long career, he was a great conciliator who brought together people with very different viewpoints.

“It’s important that we judge Bubber West by his entire life as a community leader and as a public servant,” Brown said.

“I’ll miss him very much.”