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Charles P. West Sr.

1921 - 2015 Obituary Condolences
Charles P. West Sr. Obituary
The Honorable Charles P. West, Sr., former State Representative

AGE: 94 • Gumboro

Former State Representative Charles P. West, 94, passed away Wednesday evening, Oct. 7, 2015, at his Gumboro home surrounded by his family. He had remained active until recent months. He was first elected to the Delaware House of Representatives in 1956, serving one term. In 1978, he ran again successfully and continued to serve as 41st District Representative until his retirement in 2002. During the course of his legislative career he served under six governors: Boggs, du Pont, Castle, Wolfe, Carper and Minner.

Charles was born on his family's farm in Sussex County's Gumboro Hundred on May 2, 1921, the fourth of six children of Jacob Henry and Lizzie West. Charles recalled in later years that his youth had not been easy:

"When I was a boy growing up on my father's farm, I started working at seven or eight years old, cultivating and plowing with a team of mules and doing what needed to be done. Dad bought two farms the year before the Great Depression hit and we had to do everything we could to keep them. We made holly wreathes to sell at Christmas time and everything else you can think of. There was no one poorer than we were."

Like many in that era, Charles left school after the 10th grade and went to work full-time on the farm. As a young man in the late 1930s, he also displayed a talent for boxing and used to hitchhike to Wilmington on weekends to train at a gym there. Both his farming and his boxing careers were interrupted by World War II, in which Charles served his country as a member of the U.S. Army.

While on leave during the war, he met a young lady, Eleanor Lee Collins of Laurel, who was then in nurse's training at Delaware Hospital in Wilmington. An immediate spark was ignited that continued to burn steadily through their marriage in 1946 and for some 69 years thereafter. Anyone who knows the Wests knows that Charles and Eleanor Lee were very much a team, both in politics and in every aspect of their lives together.

Following the war, Charles continued to work on the farm but he also went to work as a carpenter on construction projects at Seaford's DuPont nylon plant and the Indian River Power Plant, among others. Along the way, he became a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, Local 2012, which was to serve him well in his political career, giving this downstate farmer strong allies among powerful union leaders in northern Delaware.

As a state legislator, Charles was known as a master of the art of constituent service, fighting for the needs of district residents of all types and political affiliations. A Democrat, he always had strong support among Republicans as well. He developed a reputation in Dover of never taking "No" for an answer. It was said that when he went to state agencies seeking help in solving constituent problems, officials usually gave him what he asked for the first time around, because they knew that if they didn't, he would just keep coming back until they did.

Perhaps because he had been forced to leave school early, he was a great supporter of higher education in general and of Delaware Technical and Community College's Owens Campus at Georgetown in particular. One of his proudest legislative accomplishments was his effort to establish the Delaware Veterans Cemetery at Stockley. Another came in 1998, when he got legislation passed converting the former Gumboro Public School into what became the Gumboro Community Center. Largely through Charles's efforts, the brick building, dating from the 1920s, now contains meeting areas, a small museum, kitchen and dining facilities. On his 80th birthday in 2001, the grounds of the center, containing a children's playground and a ball field were officially named the Charles P. West Community Park.

Among the numerous community and civic organizations in which Charles was active are the Gumboro Volunteer Fire Company, of which he was a charter member and past president, the Millsboro Lions Club, the Delaware Branch of the Quality Deer Management Association, of which he was a charter member, and the Gumboro United Methodist Church.

In addition to his wife, Eleanor, Charles is survived by his son, Charles P. "Chip" West, II, and his wife, Debbie, who live on the West homeplace, Cypress Tree Farm, near Gumboro, a granddaughter, Jenna, of Pittsburgh, Pa., and many nieces and nephews. His brothers, Howard, Jacob Henry, and Leon, and his sisters, Elizabeth and Beatrice, predeceased him.

A viewing will be held at Watson Funeral Home, 211 S. Washington St. in Millsboro on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015, from 3:00 - 6:00 p.m. and on Monday, Oct. 12, from 12:00-1:00 p.m, with a funeral service beginning at 1:00 p.m. Following the service, Charles will be laid to rest with full military honors at the West Family Cemetery, adjacent to the family farm on Lone Cypress Road.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Memorial Fund at the Delaware Community Foundation in honor of Representative Charles P. West. Checks should be payable to the "Delaware Community Foundation" and the donor should write "Rep. Charles P. West" on the memo line. Checks may be sent to the Delaware Community Foundation, 36 The Circle, Georgetown, DE 19947.

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Published in The News Journal on Oct. 10, 2015
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