Amherst Magazine

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Robert West '58 (1936-2005)

A lifelong Vermonter, Bob brought New England reserve and restraint to Amherst.

He was quiet, humble and courteous. You never mistook him for a party-boy. But he wasn’t shy. He channeled his considerable energies into constructive community activities. A partial list includes chair of the Blood Drive, managing editor of the Olio, vice chair of The Student, Christian Association, Masquers, house manager of Theta Delt and Sphinx.

All this activity was preparing Bob for a return to Vermont and a career in public life. After graduating from Yale Law School in 1961, Bob started off at Ryan, Smith, & Carbine in Rutland. He went on to be state’s attorney for Rutland County (1965-69) and a member of the Vermont General Assembly (1969-73). He served for many years as a grand juror and member of the Vermont Judicial Selection Board. He was Vermont’s first defender general. In addition, he served on the boards of the Boy Scouts and other service organizations.
Jim West, Bob’s brother, described his two main passions after he eventually left state politics: local history and the outdoors. Jim remembers that Bob spent much time volunteering for the Manchester (Vt.) Historical Society. “He was their program chairman for many years and brought many interesting programs to the Manchester community. As Manchester was chartered back in 1761, he had over 200 years of its history to draw on. The community had evolved from a very self-sustaining lifestyle, through its many changes, to a town that depends very much on tourism.”

Jim added, “His programs included such topics as the marble quarrying industry, sheep-raising, lumbering, charcoal kilns, dairying, and then into the tourist industry of the present day.” At the time of his death, Bob had accumulated a huge number of artifacts connected with the history of the Manchester community and its surrounding neighbors. Many of these were given to the society.

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Bob was also an outdoors person. He led annual or semi-annual historical society sponsored hikes to various local points, including a bat cave situated on the side of one of the local mountain peaks and the summit of the highest peak of the mountains surrounding the Manchester valley. The hikes up Mt. Equinox deliberately replicated ones led in the 1850s by Edward Hitchcock, Amherst’s geologist president.

Jim will “never forget an article about Bob’s interest and participation in these hikes. Bob always described them as being easy to moderate in difficulty. A local businessman was quoted in the local newspaper as saying, “Moderate, my a__!” From what I, his brother, had experienced myself, this gentleman had a better handle on the situation than Bob. Bob always underestimated the difficulty of a hike for someone who had not done as much of this type of physical activity as he had.”

Bob married in 1969 and had a daughter, Susan. The marriage ended a number of years before his death. Bob spent the last years of his life working for the Stratton Corporation during their long winter mountain seasons. “Come springtime,” Jim remembers, “he returned to his many hours given to the historical society.”
Robert Edward West died April 19, 2005, from a lung fibrosis condition, complicated by pneumonia.

Bob West

Robert E. West, 6/6/2005

Robert Edward West

Bob West died on April 19, 2005 from a lung fibrosis condition, complicated by pneumonia.

A native Vermonter, Bob was born in Londonderry on August 9, 1936 to Lewis Alfred and Cora Mae (Norse) West. He prepared for Amherst at Burr & Burton Seminary.

Amherst classmate Moe Wolff remembers, “Bob was a very humble and courteous human being, with a ready smile and an eagerness to share and to listen to someone else’s view. He seemed shy at first, but that I believe was part of his New England sense of reserve and restraint.” “Shy, quiet, reserved.” There are others who have echoed these thoughts in their comments about Bob. At the same time, Bob’s impressive career at Amherst certainly suggests more outgoing facets to his personality: Sphinx, Vice-Chairman of the Student, Managing Editor of the Olio, Chairman of the Blood Drive, Manager of Freshman Cross-Country (where he earlier won his “1958” numerals), House Manager of Theta Delt, Christian Association, Masquers (as a member of which he directed the play Salomé), and the Career Conference Committee.

After graduating from Yale Law School in 1961, Bob returned to his native Vermont, practicing law and participating fully in the political life of the state. Starting off at Ryan, Smith, & Carbine in Rutland, he went on to be state’s attorney for Rutland County (1965 to 1969) and a member of the Vermont General Assembly (1969 to 1973). Bob also served for many years as a grand juror and member of the Vermont Judicial Selection Board. He was Vermont’s first defender general. In addition, he served on the boards of the Boy Scouts and other service organizations.

Bob also had a passionate interest in the outdoors (Hutch Tibbetts recalls meeting him a number of times when Bob worked on Stratton Mountain) and in history. In 1977, the Governor of Vermont appointed Bob, in recognition of his environmental interests, to coordinate Vermont’s participation in a federally funded study of Lake Champlain. He was known in Manchester for his many years of service to the local historical society, being “very active in everything,” according to the society’s president, Mary Hard Bort, as reported in the Boston Globe. Particularly significant in his historical society activities was his leading of hikes up to the summit of Mt. Equinox. Art Powell recalls that Bob delighted in telling him that these walks replicated ones led in the 1850s by Edward Hitchcock, Amherst’s famous geologist president. Later on in his life, Bob was a professor of American history at Bennington College.

Bob was remembered with a eulogy at the meeting of the Manchester Historical Society next following his death.

Bob married Judith Seaver on July 12, 1969, by whom he had a daughter, Susan. This marriage ended a number of years before Bob’s death. He is also survived by his two brothers, Bradford and James West, of Manchester, and by nieces and nephews, to whom the class extends its condolences.

John E. G. Bischof

 

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