Bob West — Port Arthur News sports editor for 43 years — passes away

Published 11:06 am Friday, July 28, 2023

Legendary Port Arthur News sports editor Bob West has died.

His son, Damon West, posted a tribute to this father Friday morning on social media.

Bob West was 79.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Our family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers. My father went to be with The Lord today. He passed away at MD Anderson this morning due to complications related to his Stage 4 Colon Cancer,” Damon’s post read.

West was one of the most powerful journalism voices in Southeast Texas and certainly was the region’s most read sports writer.

He retired from The Port Arthur News is the Spring of 2015.

It was a job he had held since 1971.

West could not have imagined when he first moved with his friend Dave Wilson from Missouri to Texas what would be become.

Both had partial scholarships to play on Lamar University’s golf team, or Lamar Tech as it was known back then.

Bob West is featured in documentary about the Phillips family. (Courtesy photo)

Wanting to escape Missouri’s frigid  winters, they had found out about Lamar from a golf pro in Columbia, Mo., named Al Chandler, who had played on Lamar Tech teams in the 1950s. He still had contacts, made a couple of phone calls and Bob and Dave were soon headed to Southeast Texas.

“When we got down here, we found out we were not good enough for the Lamar team, but it got us away from snow and ice,” West recalled in a Port Arthur News story about his retirement.

Though West’s golfing stint at Lamar did not go as hoped, he found the school was a good fit, and so was the area. The year was 1965, and Houston’s Astrodome was about to open — quite an attraction for the sports enthusiast he was.

In short order, he took a part-time job at the Beaumont Enterprise, where he took calls from stringers covering Friday night football games in Louisiana.

“It felt like I had to learn a foreign language when they starting hitting me with names like Boudreaux and Quibodeaux,” he said.

Though a business major, West discovered his love of sports coupled with his natural ability to write, made him a natural for a sports reporter. He was also a natural to catch the eye of Genie Montie — a Lamar cheerleader, who in 1968 became his wife.

He changed his major to communications, was hired full time at the Beaumont Journal in 1967 and in 1971 took a job at The Port Arthur News to cover sports in Beaumont.

A year later, he was named sports editor — a position he has held for 43 years.

Even after retirement, he continued to write golf columns for The Port Arthur News and Orange Leader.

His last one published this month.

From the day he became sports editor, West vowed that all-black Lincoln High School was going to get the same sports treatment as other schools the paper covered. Previously, a part-timer with little journalistic training had covered the Bumble Bees and reports on them were all too often not given the play West felt they deserved.

“My resolve was to cover the kids at Lincoln like any other school,” he said in 2015.  “It helped that they were going through a period of excellence in both basketball and football.”

Still, breaking racial barriers in the 1970s was not always popular. West kept a drawer full of letters, many of them vicious, written from people who did not want to see racial equality in the newspaper.
Through the years, West says, he was privileged to follow the careers of numerous Southeast Texas star athletes, many of which went on to play professionally.

Two of his favorites bookend West’s storied career.

Lincoln’s Little Joe Washington was a high school All-America running back in 1971 who went on to shatter records at Oklahoma, then made a name for himself in the NFL, most notably with the Baltimore Colts and Washington Redskins.

Thirty plus years later along came  Memorial High School’s Jamaal Charles, who in 2014 became the Kansas City Chief’s all time leading rusher with 6,856 career yards.

“I always said the best high school football player I would ever see was Joe Washington,” West said.  “Well, Jamaal Charles proved me wrong. Jamaal is a wonderful young man, just a really classy guy. That’s also a trait he shared with Joe.”

Many of the athletes he’s come to know have shared West’s wall space through the years with the people headlining The Port Arthur News Homecoming Roasts. That major fundraising initiative raised money for the Museum of the Gulf Coast, and helped keep Port Arthur on the national map.

Houston Oilers coach and Mid-County native Bum Phillips; Dallas Cowboys coach and Port Arthur native Jimmy Johnson; Lamar and Oklahoma basketball  coach Billy Tubbs and former Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars owner Thomas O. Hicks were among the sports legends who agreed to come to Port Arthur for the homecoming roasts.

Add to that political heavyweights like Texas Gov. Ann Richards, Southeast Texas’ own U.S. Congressman Jack Brooks and State Senator Carl Parker, along with renowned local attorney Walter Umphrey — all big names West was able to pull in to raise money for the museum.

The roasts also played a big part in putting the museum in its current Procter Street location.
“We needed about $2 million and about $700,000 was raised by the roasts,” said Sam Monroe, a museum board member who was instrumental in its creation.

“Bob is an excellent writer, and most writers of his stature are not willing to use their influence in the community the way Bob does,” Monroe said in 2015. “I think he really likes being here in Port Arthur and supports the community. The museum is a good example of that.”

When the  “Luv Ya Blue,” movement was sweeping Houston, West was there covering the Oilers, and even traveling with them, during a run of success led by Phillips. West remembers the time as a highlight of his career — a time that provided opportunity to get to know Phillips, who would become a good, and admired, friend.

Wade Phillips and Bob West at the unveiling of the Bum Phillips trophy in July, 2014. (Bart Bragg/Special to The News)

In Phillips’ honor, The Port Arthur News, led by West, introduced the Bum Phillips Bowl trophy. Awarded to the winner of Mid County Madness, the unique trophy features a football with Phillips’ signature cowboy hat on top.

Of all the awards he’s won — and there have been many, including two for Texas Sports Writer of the Year  — he’s most proud of The Good Samaritan Award presented by the Beaumont Texas Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

West was recognized by the group for going above the call of duty to make a young man’s life brighter.
David Hanchett, a Lincoln High School football player, had suffered a paralyzing injury late in a 1975 game that left him a quadriplegic. With the family desperately needing money for mounting medical bills, West penned a column about the young man’s plight.

It got the attention of area school districts, who pitched in with a series of fundraisers to benefit Hanchett. West also got Phillips’ attention.

“Bum had the best heart. He made his players aware of David’s plight and the fact he was being cared for in Houston. Bum and many of the players would go by and visit him at the Texas Institute of Research and  Rehabilitation.”

When Phillips discovered Hanchett’s favorite football team was the Cleveland Browns, he took it upon himself to give the youngster a day he would never forget. Bum called Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell to get his blessing, then arranged for Hanchett to be brought to the Oilers season finale against the Browns and taken to midfield to call the coin toss.

Services for West are still pending.