He was a businessman, a rancher and a photographer. But to all who knew John Robert West Jr., he is being remembered as a dear friend.
West lost his battle with cancer on Feb. 6. The longtime Beeville resident was 77. And while he did not leave behind a wife or children, West is survived by many friends and those who welcomed him in as part of their families.
C.F. “Spike” Moore, who worked as district attorney from 1983-94 before becoming a federal administrative law judge, recalls how West made his family feel welcomed when they moved to a house on Yellowstone Drive in Beeville in 1980.
“John was such a welcoming and generous soul,” Moore said. “He wanted to meet us and have us over for dinner.”
The Moores moved into another home in the city, which resulted in them being West’s next door neighbor. Moore and his wife split their time between a local residence and a house in Dallas.
“We never had a Christmas without John West at our house in Dallas,” Moore said. “We were very, very close with John.”
West was well known in the Coastal Bend region due to being a lawyer who specialized in matters related to real estate and oil and natural gas. He also ran successful title companies in Beeville and Tilden. But those who did not do business with West likely knew him because of his passion for photography.
“That camera lived around that man’s neck,” said Michelle Orcutt, president of Wildlife in Focus, for which West was a founding board member.
On the board for more than a decade, but an active part of the organization up until his death, West – known for speaking mostly in colorful metaphors – believed in being laconic when it came to explaining things.
“He didn’t want too many ingredients in our tacos,” Orcutt said. “If it’s too complicated and too long, you’ve missed the point.”
Orcutt said that whenever the organization had an event, West would automatically assume the duties of the event’s photographer. But his true love was shooting photos of wildlife at his ranch and in Alaska, where West took many pictures of bears. He also shot photos in other locales including the Amazon rainforest.
West was never stingy about sharing his deep knowledge of photography. Trevor Dragon said the two would meet weekly to compare notes since they met in 2018. The two became fast friends.
“He definitely never met a stranger, Dragon said. “His businesses gave him a lot of contact with a lot of different people. He was always very personable with everybody.”
West was among those who helped to start the Wildlife In Focus’ photography contest in 2001 after seeing the success of a similar competition in the Rio Grande Valley and wanting that for the Coastal Bend.
“It was just a common interest between the photographers and the ranch owners, where we could bring up that interest from the Valley,” Orcutt said. “Then it morphed into Kritters 4 Kids.”
Wildlife in Focus, she said, was able to get grant funding to publish books containing winning contest photographs for area classrooms. Youngsters now access the images digitally, which inspires a new generation of photographers, Orcutt said, while encouraging them to set their minds toward environmental conservation.
West also would regularly bring photos he shot to area schools when he would make regular visits with students.
“He was great with children. Well, he was great with everybody but little kids just adored him,” Orcutt said.
Another of West’s longtime friends, Linda Crofutt, said they knew each other for more than 20 years. Crofutt, who now is retired, was the longtime manager of the Fennessey Ranch near Bayside.
“He was one of a kind,” she said. “He was an adventurer and traveler ... He was up for everything and he was funny.
“He said he had three rides on the carousel when most people stood in line for one.”
Crofutt described West as someone who could make friends wherever he went.
“He thoroughly enjoyed life,” she said. “He loved wildlife and he loved Bee County.”