The first biography of this visionary South Carolina
governor and stalwart ambassador to Saudi Arabia
In this detailed account of the life and legacy of John C. West (1922–2004), biographer Philip G. Grose offers insight into a man whose political career was spent on the threshold of dissent and nonconformity, first as a legislator and governor of South Carolina and later as President Jimmy Carter's ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
After representing his native Kershaw County in the South Carolina State Senate from 1955 to 1966, West was elected lieutenant governor and was described by Governor Robert E. McNair as a man who was "always looking for Utopia." West's progressive vision carried him to the governorship in 1970, when he won a hotly contested race over archconservative Republican Albert W. Watson. As governor he carried forward an ambitious agenda for addressing poverty and hunger in South Carolina and eliminating discrimination from state government. His landmark selection of civil rights activist James E. Clyburn—later U.S. House majority whip—as the first black executive to serve on a South Carolina governor's staff solidified West's place in modern history.
After leaving office, West reentered the private practice of law, but only briefly. The election of his long-time friend and fellow Democratic governor Jimmy Carter as president brought West back into public service. During a critical period in the Middle East from 1977 to 1981, West served as U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a position that was regarded by the Carter administration as among the highest diplomatic priorities in the world. West won the confidence of Saudi leaders and was able to serve as a direct conduit to President Carter during those troubled years. His against-the-grain boldness and personal diplomacy served U.S. interests particularly well during the political crises surrounding the Iranian hostage seizure, the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and the Arab world's reaction to the Camp David Accords.
Drawing on West's personal journals and autobiographical sketches, as well as oral histories and his own relationship with West as a staffer and close friend, Grose has created a richly nuanced portrait of a statesman who stepped out of Depression-era South Carolina to champion causes of the underdog and underprivileged as governor and to implement often-unpopular diplomatic policies in the feverish politics of the Middle East as ambassador.
Philip G. Grose (1938–2012) served on the gubernatorial staffs of Robert E. McNair and John C. West and is the author of South Carolina at the Brink: Robert McNair and the Politics of Civil Rights. A veteran journalist and former director of the South Carolina Executive Institute, Grose was a research associate at the Institute for Southern Studies at the University of South Carolina.