Dr. Roy A. West, former Richmond mayor, educator, dies at 89

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 5/31/2019, 6 a.m.
Dr. Roy A. West, a decisive and outspoken man known for his strong opinions and who exercised power at City ...
Dr. West

At the time, City Council appointed members of the School Board along with setting the school system’s budget. And Dr. West, rather than sulking, sought a post from which he could have some say in those matters. Dr. Hunter resigned from the school system soon after Dr. West became mayor.

Dr. West held the mayoral post for six of the 12 years he served on City Council. During his tenure as mayor, the city built and opened 6th Street Marketplace, a mall across Broad Street that was the biggest effort at the time to revitalize Downtown. The project ultimately failed.

Also during Dr. West’s tenure as mayor, the city finally funded construction of Boushall Middle School in South Side after 12 years of trying.

But neither Dr. West nor anyone on council could halt the city’s steady population decline as numerous white and African-American families left the city for the suburbs.

By the time Dr. West left the council in 1994 after his defeat by Viola O. Baskerville, a future member of the House of Delegates and future state secretary of administration, the city had hit bottom, with its murder rate soaring, its population shrinking and its outlook far different than the current of prosperity and growth in people and residential and commercial development.

He was honored by City Council after he left with the naming of a green space off Forest Lawn Drive in North Side as the Roy A. West Recreation Park.

In the years after he left office, Dr. West continued to serve the city. Council appointed him to represent Richmond on the boards of the Richmond Metropolitan Authority and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.

A later successor to Dr. West in the 3rd District, Councilman Chris A. Hilbert knew him as an involved resident.

“I recall receiving emails that were sent in the wee hours of the morning letting me know his views on issues facing the council and on infrastructure issues within his beloved Washington Park neighborhood,” Mr. Hilbert stated.  

“You always knew where you stood with Dr. West. He kept us all on our toes. We will miss him but know that he left a legacy of a true public servant,” Mr. Hilbert wrote in an email to the Free Press.

Born in Richmond in 1930 during the Great Depression, Dr. West learned early that nothing would be handed to him and that education was one way he could rise from poverty. The son of a deaf woman who worked as a housekeeper, he grew up in a Washington Park home without indoor toilets.

He overcame stuttering and went on to graduate from Maggie L. Walker High School and began his career in education after graduating from VUU. He would later earn a master’s from New York University and a doctorate from George Washington University.

Dr. West initially taught business classes at Armstrong High School and was named the school’s Teacher of the Year in 1968. He also taught adult classes in the evenings.