The Lois Rhame West Health, Physical Education, and Wellness Center is widely known as the first building on the Winthrop University campus to be intentionally environmentally friendly (“green”), the first academic facility to have been funded principally through student fees, and the first building to anchor the newly re-centered heart of the campus.
Much like the facility that bears her name, Lois Rhame West is also a trailblazer, accumulating many ‘firsts’ to her credit. Along the way, she has inspired Winthrop, South Carolina, and the nation to higher standards in wellness, physical fitness, and health care policy, serving as a powerful example for leadership in action.
Even among the distinctive Class of 1943, Lois was a stand-out, playing field hockey, tennis, and golf. The first Winthrop student to marry and continue to graduation, Lois obtained her undergraduate degree in physical education from Winthrop and taught at the University of South Carolina while her husband, future South Carolina Governor John West, completed law school. Lois campaigned statewide in the gubernatorial race and became an authoritative voice for physical education during their tenure as Governor and First Lady from 1971 – 1975. Subsequently, she served as a true partner in diplomacy with her husband abroad when he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia where Lois made strides in promoting the acceptance of women in leadership roles.
Lois also was the first female president nationally of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, serving for more than 40 years as an influential volunteer with the association. Her numerous civic contributions include service as a trustee on the S.C. Museum Commission, president of the West Foundation (a scholarship program named for Gov. West) and a volunteer with both the Cub Scouts and the Girl Scouts. Lois started a horticulture and floriculture program at Midlands Center, a facility in Columbia that serves adults with mental retardation.
Lois' belief in education and her love for Winthrop led eventually to determined efforts by both Lois and John West to support the transformation of Winthrop to a coeducational institution in the early 1970s. Their actions were one more reflection of a devotion to education as a top priority for all South Carolinians and a pillar of the university’s transformation from a woman’s college to a comprehensive teaching university that offers national accreditation for all eligible programs.
The Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree that Winthrop University bestowed upon Lois in 1984 recognized her active involvement in helping others, especially students, to become engaged members of the community, leaders in their fields, and citizens of the world. Lois and her family were among the very first major donors to Winthrop, starting the Lois Rhame West Scholars program in the mid-1980s to provide full scholarships to South Carolina residents. Her gift for leadership was especially visible in her role as the co-chair for Winthrop’s first capital campaign, an effort that generated gifts exceeding $30 million and increased scholarships for students, improved academic programs in various fields of study, and provided more research opportunities for the faculty.
As today’s students, faculty and staff work and play in the West Center, they will continually be reminded of this outstanding alumna, peerless role model, higher education champion, and loyal benefactor. They could have no better role model than Lois Rhame West.