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Kirsten West Savali Headshot

Daddy's Girl: Honoring My Father's Legacy

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Abraham Lincoln once said, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

My father, Theodore Joseph "Bubber" West, was blessed with both in abundance. As a business owner, civic leader and city alderman for over seventeen years, he used his influence to help everyone he encountered, never once expecting reciprocity. Daddy never met a stranger. If he had a dollar, he would give you that dollar and apologize that he didn't have more to share.

One of his most endearing characteristics was that he loved to laugh; you could feel the unfettered joy in his laughter. He told the corniest jokes, but you couldn't help but laugh with him, because it was contagious. Tears would stream from his eyes, rendering it impossible not to join in the moment.

His favorite joke was when people would rush into his office asking for one thing or another; he'd look up at his ceiling and say, "Ssssh... did you hear that?" People would always abruptly stop speaking, follow his gaze, and say, "No, Bubber, I didn't hear it." He'd say, "Listen closer; you still don't hear that?" They would concentrate harder, listening for anything out of the ordinary then say... "No Bubber, I still don't hear anything." That twinkle in his eye would get brighter, and he'd say, "I know, it's been like that all day!" Now, that might not be funny in and of itself, but the fact that he thought it was hilarious made it so... every single time.

My father passed down invaluable life creeds to me that I will never forget -- they were passed down to him by his father, George F. West, Sr., who was the first African-American alderman in Natchez, Mississippi in the twentieth century. He said, 'Baby girl, there is a destiny that makes us brothers; none goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.' The second one -- his personal motto -- was: 'What you do for yourself dies with you; what you do for others lives on.'

In one of his last messages to me, he added a third, and according to him, the most important one: 'Baby girl, if you don't remember anything else that Daddy ever tells you, when it's raining, carry an umbrella.'

My father was my umbrella; but he didn't just shelter and protect me. He molded me. He taught me the importance of community; he talked about the Freedom Riders and the cold case, Civil Rights Era murder of Wharlest Jackson. He explained the undeniable fact that integration without education was the worst thing that ever happened to the Black community; he sat me on his knee and taught me about the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission profiling the NAACP as a radical organization. From politics and science, to psychology and business, my father was my blueprint, and remains so today.

His physical form may have been buried on October 27, 2011; but, energy does not die, it transfers. A person's soul, their heart, it transfers to all who are open to receiving it. Daddy might not have been ready to go just yet, but I know, beyond a shadow of all reasonable doubt, that if the world could feel his energy, be his energy, that it would be a better place. Love your families a little better; hold them a little tighter; appreciate them a little more. Daddy always believed that when the world is against you, when nothing else is going right, you should always be able to depend on your family. That's the great man that he was, and that's the legacy that I will pass down to my sons.

My father always said that he lived a good life, a full life, but that all he really wanted to be remembered for was being a good Daddy. I write this open tribute with no hesitation nor reservation to say that I am so proud to be his daughter. There is no comparison; his shoes are too big to fill. There have been no words created that could ever do him justice. He's my hero, my strength, my best friend, my rock. He is the man by whom all men will forever be measured and I am so extremely honored to love him and be loved by him.

Ever since I was a little girl -- as far back as I can remember -- "My Girl" by the Temptations was our song. It was the father/daughter dance at my wedding. If we were apart, he would call and sing it to me over the phone. If we were together, he would do his favorite dance --- which I grew up believing was called "The Bubber"; I only found out later that it was "The Popeye". He would look for me, hold out his arms, and say, 'There's my girl.' Then he would spin me around, hold me close and dip me, singing the entire time. My favorite place in the world to be was in my father's arms. So, to the greatest man I will ever know, the foundation and inspiration for everything I will ever achieve: "I'm still dancing with you, Daddy; I'll always be your girl."