UPDATE: Services Set for Wake County Commissioner, Dr. James West


Obituary for Dr. James Preston West
Dr. James West

From his college days during the 1960s Civil Rights movement, peacefully protesting segregation in Greensboro and going to jail alongside Jesse Jackson, to his frustration in the 2000s following an increase in youth homicides in Raleigh that led him to co-found a youth development collaborative, to his fierce advocacy during the 2020 pandemic fighting for the survival of Wake County’s small businesses, Dr. James West spent more than seven decades steadfastly striving to correct inequities, uplift youth and empower the impoverished.

While funeral arrangements are still being finalized, today, at its 2 p.m. regular meeting, the Wake County Board of Commissioners will pay tribute to this 13-year veteran County Commissioner, 11-year veteran City of Raleigh Councilman and life-long veteran of championing the downtrodden. His wife and family shared that the 79-year-old died Friday following a sudden health issue.

“Dr. West was unbelievably committed to this community and his mission was always making sure that people who didn’t have a voice had one through him,” said Chair Shinica Thomas of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. “He always challenged leadership to step up for the people and was constantly mentoring younger people to make sure those after him could continue the hard work. His storytelling, work ethic, integrity and his love for this community are going to be greatly missed.”

Referred to by many as a “pillar of public service” and a “trailblazer” in Wake County, Dr. West dedicated a quarter of a century trying to create social and economic equality for residents, especially those in his home district, District 5 in Southeast Raleigh and eastern Wake County. Known for his “Dr. West-isms,” he frequently spoke about the need to strengthen the county’s “spiritual infrastructure,” about the phenomenon of “rising tides that would lift all boats” and the need to do more outreach to support the “least of us.”

As the most seasoned commissioner on the current board, Dr. West often drew on the successes of his time serving as a Commissioner from 2010 to 2023. He also reflected on the lessons learned serving on the Raleigh City Council from 1999 to 2010, including a seven-year stint as mayor pro-tem.

He was instrumental in creating and leading the Live Well Wake initiative, which brings together private and public sector partners to help residents live longer, healthier lives. He also worked hard to expand affordable housing opportunities for lower-income residents and people experiencing homelessness, believing that everyone deserves to have a safe, stable place to live.

He served as the chair of Wake County’s Health and Human Services Committee, regularly recommending initiatives that would better serve families holistically. His goal was not only to help them with the specific issue that caused them to seek assistance, but also offer the full breadth of county programs and services so the family or individual received more comprehensive support.

Dr. West was involved in numerous community organizations, establishing many of them himself. In 2001, he founded the Southeast Raleigh Alliance with then Raleigh Mayor Paul Coble. Their goal was to keep wealth and jobs within a community by empowering residents through training and giving them tools and education to improve their economic standing.

Dr. West earned his bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and his graduate degrees in legislative process and advanced management, as well as his doctorate in education, from NC State University.

He worked for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at NC State for 30 years. He was the first Black man in the nation to serve as a director, supervising more than a thousand faculty and support staff. He retired in 1995 to dedicate even more time to the community and his public service.

Find more on Dr. West’s impressive record of service in
this recent profile during Black History Month.

Dr. West smiling with Wake County employees
Press Release