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Builder of houses and people: Caledonia builder, Realtor dies at age 89


William Vincen

William Vincen "W.V." West



Slim Smith



William Vincen "W.V." West, who died Monday at age 89, was a lot of things. 


"During the funeral, people kept coming up to me, telling me all the things my father had done, things I had no idea about," said his son, Don. 


With his brother, Rudy, the man known as "W.V." opened three businesses, including what is now Coldwell Banker West Realty. He was also an accomplished golfer (11 holes-in-one), a devoted Sunday School teacher (he taught classes for 50 years at Wesley United Methodist Church), a tireless advocate for growth in his adopted home of Columbus, a ravenous reader and a devoted friend and confidant. 


West was many things -- and just one, said Max Cullum, his friend of 50 years. 


"He was a builder," Cullum said. "He built a lot of houses but he was a builder of people, too. I never had a friend that could compare to him." 


The oldest of four kids, W.V. was born in Alabama but grew up in Caledonia. With his dad, Henry, and brother, Rudy, W.V. opened their first business, West and Sons Construction, on Military Road in 1954. 


"They built hundreds of houses, especially in east Columbus," Don said. "At the time they started their construction business, there was a lot of demand for housing from people coming back from the Korean War. They must have built 1,200, (or) 1,400 houses." 


The brothers later opened a building supply company, but it was their third business for which W.V. and Rudy would be best remembered. 


"They had started building a lot of custom homes and his customers started asking Dad who could sell their old homes for them," Don said. "So the real estate company really started almost as a side business." 


The Wests opened West Realty in 1959. Don now runs the company, which became Coldwell Banker West Realty in 1984. 


Even in his retirement, W.V. was a regular presence at the company. 


"He'd pick up the mail each day, drink coffee with friends and encourage the agents," Don said. 


Ronnie West, Rudy's son, said W.V. became a second father to him and his brother, Steve, after their father's death 20 years ago. "Any time I needed advice, he was the first person I would go to," Ronnie said. "I had so much respect for him. He told you what you needed to hear, not just what you wanted to hear. That's the kind of advice that matters." 


As W.V. and Rudy turned more of their attention to their real estate company, Ronnie and Steve took over the family construction business, opening West Brothers Construction in 1971. Today it is one of the largest commercial construction companies in North Mississippi. 


"Steve and I grew up in their construction business," Ronnie said. "They taught us so much. We started like everybody else there, with a broom in our hand. It didn't matter who you were to my uncle and Dad. You started at the bottom and learned the business. 


"He was a living example of how to be a man's man," he added. "When my dad or uncle told you something, you could count on it. They did what they said they would do. There were great examples for us when we started our business." 




'A giant of a person' 


W.V. was, in Cullum's words, a "giant of a person" -- if he befriended someone, that person had a friend for life. 


"People keep telling me that Dad was just a perfect Southern gentleman," Don said. "He always had something positive to say and seemed to know just the right thing to say. But it went farther than that. If he found out somebody needed something, he'd go talk to them, figure out what could be done and make it happen.  


"A lot of things, we're just now hearing about," he added. "We never knew." 


West was also a voracious reader. 


"He was something of a medical guru," Don said. "He got the Harvard Medical Newsletter every month for the past 15 years. And just read everything in it. We would mention something to somebody and he'd say, 'I could have told you that.' When, near the end, the doctors told him there wasn't anything else they could do, he told them, 'Yeah. I already knew that.'" 


Ronnie said W.V.'s reading interests went beyond medicine. 


"Really, he just wanted to know everything," Ronnie said. "I think it was that he always wanted to go to college and get an education. When that didn't work out for him, he was just determined to learn things. If something came up he didn't know, he wouldn't stop until he had read everything he could get his hands on about whatever it was." 


His other passion, golf, was almost all-consuming. 


"My dad and uncle both loved golf," Don said. "I remember when I first starting working at the real estate company in 1980, people would call, waiting to see Dad or Uncle Rudy. Dad would tell them, 'I'm in the office until noon.' He didn't have to tell them where he'd be after that. They knew he'd be on the golf course." 


As a golfer, W.V. was always a bit preoccupied with the weather, especially rain. 


"In his last few days, when we would go see him in the hospital, he'd always ask if it was raining," Don said. "We'd say no." 


During Thursday's funeral services, as visitors gathered for the graveside service, Don remembered his father's obsession with rain. 


"Just as we got to the graveside service, the bottom fell out," he said. "We got soaked. I think Dad would have loved that. He got the last laugh on all of us."


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]



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