Douglas West, a year-round resident of Martha’s Vineyard since 2017, born Sept. 24, 1945, in Bellaire, Ohio, died peacefully, surrounded by his family, on Dec. 16, 2022, in Falmouth, Mass. He was 77.
He first came to the Island in 1954 at the invitation of Phil and Anita Buddington, whom his mother met at her first post-college job. He came every year thereafter, staying with the Buddingtons until 1960, when his parents bought Reunion, an 1869 gingerbread cottage at 4 Forest Circle in the Martha’s Vineyard Campground. His granddaughter, Grace, is the fourth generation of Wests to make Reunion her summer home.
Doug graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in pre-law, playing cornet in the marching band under famed band leader Leonard Falcone. A fabled memory is being attacked by Notre Dame fans after a humiliating defeat. Unfortunately, the dents in his cornet were removed when his wife had the instrument rejuvenated. The memories linger nonetheless. He also hosted the radio show “Darlin’ Doug,” with his theme song “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons, for pirate WEAK radio.
Doug served from 1968 to 1971 in the Peace Corps in Jamaica, working with the Cooperative Union Ltd., traveling the island fishing villages as liaison for the fishing association.
Returning home, he graduated cum laude from the Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State University College of Law). His first position after law school was as a clerk to the Hon. Judge Ralph Freeman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, who, until Doug’s last day, sat on his shoulder as the good angel who could be consulted for the right course of action. Doug then joined Ford Motor Co., Office of General Counsel.
Recruited by Toyota in 1982, he rose through the legal department from vice president and general counsel, product law, to senior vice president for administrative operations, corporate secretary of the seven-person executive committee, and ultimately head of the Washington, D.C. office of Toyota’s government affairs and industry relations. He is remembered as never shying away from difficult assignments, and always being the first to take them on. When an employee with a lesbian partner with breast cancer couldn’t get health insurance because she and her partner were not married, he formed a committee to address the issue, and Toyota changed its policy to include life partners as insured.
Before retirement, he was an executive on loan as chief executive officer and chief operating officer of the U.S. Pavilion at Aichi World Expo 2005, a public-private partnership with the U.S. Department of State in Japan, where he financed, staffed, designed, built, operated, and closed the pavilion operation, hosting over 1 million visitors during its six-month term. He and his wife, Irene, lived in Japan for eight months.
In retirement Doug was commodore of the Balboa Yacht Club in Newport Beach, Calif., an avid yachtsman aboard his Tiara, named Islander after the much-loved ferry which first brought him to Martha’s Vineyard. Walking a Vineyard friend to his boat in California, his friend wept when he saw the name Islander on Doug’s boat.
A social progressive, Doug is celebrated as the most left leaning member of his 15-member book club in California. He is remembered as always stating his position clearly, with calm clarity, and heartfelt sincerity.
Active in community affairs, Doug served as a trustee of Claremont Graduate University, founding director and president of Toyota’s Urban League Automotive Training Center, a joint venture of Toyota and the Urban League launched in 1993, and Newport Beach Harbor Commissioner.
On the Vineyard he was a director of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association (MVCMA), a member of the Chilmark Conservation Commission, vice chair of the Vineyard Conservation Society (VCS) championing “Save What’s Left,” and a director of the Vineyard Open Land Foundation (VOLF), now known as Vineyard Community Lands. He was passionate about saving open space on the Vineyard.
Doug loved and celebrated his diverse family, and was proud to be part of an African American, Danish, Mexican, Afghan, Nigerian, Filipino family.
He was predeceased by his parents, Melvin and Jane West, and his brother, Thomas Gregory West. He is survived by his wife of 36 years, Irene Ziebarth; stepson Rob Ziebarth (Sadia Raoufi), daughter Michelle Wood (Chris Wood), son Doug DelVigna, and daughter Erika West (Azubike Kalu Nwiwu II); granddaughters Macy and Sally Wood, and Grace Kelechi West Kalu-Nwiwu; sister-in-law Darcie West; nephew Brian West (Stephanie West) and niece Mallory Carroll (Jamie Carroll); grandnephews Matthew and Micah West, and Max and Lee Carroll; and grandniece Jane West, lovingly named after Doug’s mother.
Celebrations of life will be held in the new year at the Balboa Yacht Club in California, and next summer on the Vineyard. He requested that donations in remembrance be made to the Vineyard Conservation Society, online at bit.ly/VCS_donation.