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Activist fought pain to ease pain

Published March 30, 2005

Neighborhood activists are often driven by the simple desire to improve their little corner of the world.

And certainly, David West, a member and past president of the North Tampa Community Crime Watch and Civic Association, wanted the best for his neighborhood and his fellow residents.

His concern, however, went far beyond his home near Busch Boulevard and Nebraska Avenue. One of his favorite songs was Chicago's Colour My World and, at times, it appeared that was his intent.

He tirelessly fought against drug dealers, prostitutes and crime throughout the Tampa Bay area. If there was a drug march, it wasn't surprising to find West at the front.

Never afraid to speak his mind, West was a fixture at community meetings in North Tampa, New Tampa, Sulphur Springs, St. Petersburg and a lot of places in between.

West, 51, passed on Sunday. He had suffered from chronic back pains for years and had a heart attack two years ago. Friends said his death was related to sudden heart failure.

Fellow North Tampa resident Pete Johnson said many people at Mayor Pam Iorio's state of the city address Tuesday spoke of how much West would be missed.

"This was a massive blow to neighborhoods," he said. "This is just unbelievable. He had so much courage for all the pain he was going through."

Government leaders on both sides of the bay are lauding his contributions. Iorio released a statement saying West, "represented the very best of neighborhood activism," and St. Petersburg City Council member Ernest Williams is preparing a proclamation.

Johnson said he expects Tampa City Council member Rose Ferlita and Tampa police majors Jane Castor and George McNamara to speak at a memorial service on Saturday.

"David was an amazing individual," Castor said Tuesday. "He worked tirelessly to improve not only his neighborhood but all of Tampa. He knew in his heart that his efforts would make a difference. And they certainly did.

"He has left an indelible mark on his community."

Castor nominated West for citizen of the year in 2004 and again this year. She noted that she saw him at so many meetings, she would ask, "David, where am I tomorrow night?"

Such praise is all the more amazing when you consider West was a man of meager means who fought against illness to serve. He had been disabled for years because of his back pain, and he once told Johnson, "I'm poor, but I don't care. I'm going to make a difference."

What drove him to such efforts? Andy Garr, a director of antidrug marches and a city planner in St. Petersburg, said West was driven by a love of children. Although he did not have any of his own, his passion was evident in how he related to kids, and how he fought for them.

"Kids were the passion because he had seen too many have their lives basically ruined by drugs," Garr said. "When you see a 4- or 5-year-old who knows more about drugs than you did when you were 25, that kid doesn't have a chance.

"He wanted kids to have a chance, to dream whatever they wanted to dream."

West was born Jan. 17, 1954, in Cincinnati. He graduated from Sycamore High School in Blue Ash, Ohio, in 1972 and served in the U.S. Army for three years and received an honorable discharge in 1975.

West lived with his mother, Helen, and was single, but two years ago he renewed a friendship with a high school sweetheart. They have remained close and she was with him when he died.

Survivors also include two sisters, Sharon Ritz of Destin and Linda West of Amarillo, Texas, and several nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Lowell J. MacDonald Funeral Home, 10520 N Florida Ave. in Tampa. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to help cover funeral expenses. Any proceeds will go to Tampa police's Crime Prevention Unit.

"One thing David told his mother when he became president of the North Tampa Civic Association was, "Let me live long enough to make a difference,' " said Pete Johnson.

Clearly, David got his wish.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813 226-3406 or

[Last modified March 30, 2005, 01:02:04]

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