Cheriton’s Lawrence West and the meaning of modesty

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Lawrence West, the Cheriton institution who died May 17 at the age of 94, is fondly remembered as a tireless volunteer firefighter and a dedicated community servant.

He also was the most modest man I’ve ever met.

I had the good fortune of knowing West all of my life — I never remember not knowing him.

He operated a small grocery store in Cheriton, was a charter member of Cheriton’s fire company with my grandfather, and was a member of the fire company with my father.

Even as a little boy, I had a sense that West was an important person — even before I knew what constituted an important person.

In his store, he was always very nice to me. In watching him talk to adults, he had a mix of friendliness, credibility, and no-nonsense straightforwardness.

As I grew up, I realized part of his appeal to me was his complete lack of outward vanity or ego.

West had every reason to act self-important or self-satisfied, but that wasn’t his nature.

He was the fire company’s chief engineer for an amazing 65 years. He is enshrined in the Firemen’s Historical Foundation of Delmarva Hall of Fame. He was a longtime former member of the Cheriton Town Council. He once owned a trucking company with a fleet of 10.

But West always made it clear he was in no mood for public accolades or recognition. He deflected credit to others and the groups he helped.

I had many instances to witness West’s utter unpretentiousness. It left a deep impression.

I loved that his reputation was firmly entrenched in who he was — instead of what he wore, what he drove, or where he lived.

He dressed neatly but without flair. He wore a flattop haircut for decades. He had a tidy, modest neighborhood home in Cheriton and never wanted to live anywhere else.

“If there’s a place any better, the good Lord kept it for himself,” he told me.

He drove an old Chevy pickup during an era in which pickups became luxurious and expensive status symbols.

He was an extraordinarily modest man in a culture that is increasingly showy.

It was as if the story of his life had a moral. Some of the most profoundly important people among us lead lives that are understated, unadorned, and unembellished.

People with genuine public standing have no need to promote their importance or exhibit the trappings of success. Authentic community esteem is always earned — and never bought.

Over the years on the Eastern Shore, I have met many similar men and women. They serve our communities in critical ways without an iota of display or glory.

Some of my favorite stories about West involved how he even detested the flashy graphics on fire engines.

It seemed West was content with a fire company’s name and number on the door of a fire truck, and not much else.

He wasn’t the type to approve of painting on the side of a fire truck a hose-holding cartoon character with an aggressive grin.

To him, unnecessarily decorative features didn’t really serve a purpose and were a waste of money.

More important to West was a sense of duty to others. His wife, who died in 1995, battled severe rheumatoid arthritis for the last 10 years of her life and West was her caretaker.

It is sad that so many pillars of the Cheriton of my youth have died. Through their words and actions, they conveyed the importance of decency, fairness, amicability, and responsibility.

West also taught me that you don’t need a shiny new car, waterfront mansion, or penchant for self-promotion to demonstrate your importance or worth.

Instead, it’s always better to be modest, humble, understated, and serve others without fanfare, complaint, or compensation.

That’s the uncommon path Lawrence West took — and taught.

West’s funeral service will be held Wednesday, May 29, at 11 a.m., at the Cheriton Volunteer Fire Company.

Lawrence West
The writer is editor of the Eastern Shore Post. Reach him at [email protected].

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