John Carl West was born in Camden, S.C. on August 27, 1922. He graduated from the Citadel in 1942 and attained the rank of Army major in World War II. He received his law degree summa cum laude at the University of South Carolina Law School in 1948.
He started as a law partner in a Camden firm and was elected to the State Senate from Kershaw County in 1954. From 1966 through 1970, he was lieutenant governor, and in 1970, he won the gubernatorial election in South Carolina. He was the Governor of South Carolina from 1971 to 1975.
In 1977, President Carter chose him as his ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He later became a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of South Carolina. On March 21, 2004, Governor West, died at his home on Hilton Head Island after a long battle with cancer at age 81.