Former councilor Jim West dies

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Longtime Los Alamos resident was 75

By Carol A. Clark

Longtime Los Alamos resident and former county councilor Jim West died Thursday.

West fought cancer for the last year that had metastasized and was found to be in an advanced stage in his system. He traveled to Houston to undergo treatment for Large Cell Lymphoma.

In an interview this morning, County Administrator Tony Mortillaro praised West for his many contributions to the community during his 40 years living here.

“I’m very saddened to hear that Jim West lost his battle with the illness. He was a friend, mentor and an outstanding individual whom I admired very much for his honesty and the care he showed for the employees of Los Alamos County,” Mortillaro said.

Council Chair Michael Wheeler expressed his sadness when hearing about the passing of West.  

“Jim and I ran for election in 2002 and we worked together for years at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. During his service on the council, Jim was always willing to  listen to all sides of an issue before making a decision,” Wheeler said. “He was very proud of the progress of Los Alamos during his time on council and especially during his leadership as chair. Jim’s contribution to our standing in the state and especially in northern New Mexico is his  legacy. Our community is diminished by his passing.”

County Council Vice Chair Michael Wismer expressed his condolences to the family.

“Jim West was a proud citizen of Los Alamos who lived his life to the fullest. As a public servant, he gave his all to this community,” Wismer said. “As a friend and colleague, he gave his infectious smile and his unique brand of philosophy of life and living that will remain with me for the rest of my life. He will be greatly missed.”

Councilor Sharon Stover is in Santa Fe attending a New Mexico Association of Counties meeting, which West participated in for years.

“Jim brought a different face to the Legislature and this organization with his cowboy hat and boots. They all just loved him,” Stover said during a telephone interview this morning. “All 33 counties belong to this group and each representative always asked about Jim since he’s been in Houston. We’ve all held Jim in such high esteem and will miss him more than we can say.”

Word of West’s battle with cancer first came to light March 25, 2008 when the county council voted to formally excuse him from attendance at council meetings and related duties until he recovered from his health challenges.

West officially resigned in November 2008 to stage an all out battle against the disease at a top cancer treatment hospital in Houston.

West went through a number of aggressive treatments and required blood transfusions. The Los Alamos community rallied behind West’s efforts by holding blood drives and other events in his honor. On June 26, hundreds of cancer survivors joined family and friends for a Relay for Life event at Ashley Pond. West was the honorary chairman of the event at which the presence of so many strong and healthy survivors was to inspire others battling the disease.

“I have Jim West on the phone listening to us from his hospital bed. Jim wanted to be here and has asked me to read a letter aloud that he wrote to all of you,” Wismer said at the time. “’I am so honored to be a part of this wonderful event — even from a distance,” West wrote. “’I know the success of this event is the result of the efforts of many hardworking people to which many of us owe a huge thank you. I regret that I cannot be with you this evening and I look forward to coming home soon, not only a survivor but a winner, to the town I love and the people I love.’”

West went on to say that life deals a hard hand to play every now and then and the measure of a person’s character can be demonstrated by how he or she plays that hand.

“We don’t give up and throw in the bad hand,” he said. “You can’t win if you don’t play to win. I’m playing to win and I hope every one of you who have experienced what every cancer patient goes through will encourage each other to keep on playing and winning.”

West encouraged those fighting cancer to think of their families, friends, homes and the beautiful mountains surrounding Los Alamos to lift them up whenever they’re feeling down.

He thanked his many supporters for their cards, letters, e-mails telephone calls and personal visits and most of all for the prayers that have been spoken on his behalf.

“One thing that carries me through each day, he said, is the knowledge that although, I don’t know what tomorrow holds, I know who holds tomorrow.”

Funeral services for West will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at White Rock Baptist Church, with burial at approximately 1:30 p.m. at Guaje Pines Cemetery.