WEST LIBERTY, W.Va., September 6, 2023 – The West Liberty University community is in mourning following the loss of distinguished alumnus, philanthropist, and friend Gary West over the weekend.
West, who earned his Business degree from West Liberty in 1958 and went on to build Valley National Gases, Inc. into the largest privately held distributor of industrial and medical gases and welding supplies in the nation, passed away Sunday at his home in Naples, Fla. He was 86.
“The University today mourns the passing of Gary E. West and offers condolences to his family and friends. I never had the pleasure of meeting Gary, but I understand he was humble, gracious, and that he cared deeply about West Liberty,” said Dr. Tim Borchers, President of West Liberty.
West was a strong supporter and powerful advocate for his alma mater, crediting the education he received on the hilltop with laying the groundwork for his incredible success as a business leader and entrepreneur.
“Without West Liberty, I probably wouldn’t even know what a balance sheet or profit and loss statement is,” West once said. “West Liberty teaches you what you need to know … then later, you put those practices to work, and hopefully, you refine them and make your company better.”
West and his wife of more than 60 years, Phyllis (Flip) West – also a West Liberty graduate – were the most generous benefactors in the history of West Liberty University, contributing to numerous projects across the WLU campus.
Highlights included their major gift to the Gary E. West College of Business Scholarship Program, the establishment of the Guy H. and Mary Ann West School of Business Scholarship Endowment, the renovation of West Family Stadium and the construction of the West Family Athletic Complex. Just last week, the university announced plans for the Appalachian Aquatic Conservation Center. It will be located adjacent to the WLU campus with the land and building donated by the Wests.
Dr. Ann Saurbier, Dean of the Gary E. West College of Business, said West’s impact on the student experience at West Liberty will honor his memory for years to come.
“Gary E. West’s impact has been, and will continue to be, felt by students and faculty alike. His generosity and focus on enhancing the College of Business has enabled us to strengthen our programs and the West Liberty University student experience in ways that truly pay tribute to his legacy.”
Athletic director Lynn Ullom had the opportunity to work closely with West on several projects over the years. Ullom remembers him as a generous man and inspirational force who left an indelible mark on the WLU campus.
“We are all deeply saddened by the loss of Gary West and join with the entire West Liberty community in extending our heartfelt condolences to his family,” Ullom said. “Gary’s life story stands as an inspiration to every Hilltopper while his unmatched generosity and support for the university continue to transform the lives of students and faculty on a daily basis. An incredible legacy for an incredible man.”
West was inducted into the West Liberty Alumni Wall of Honor in 1993 – the university’s highest alumni recognition – and became a member of the West Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2006. The 1995 West Virginia Wholesale Distribution Entrepreneur of the Year, Gary and Flip were honored by the WLU Foundation in 2021 with the inaugural Lifetime Impact of Philanthropy Award.
Along with his financial generosity, West supported the university for many years with his time and insights while serving on the West Liberty Foundation’s Board of Directors and its executive committee.
“It goes without saying that Gary had a lasting impact on the WLU Foundation,” WLU Foundation Executive Director Betsy Delk said. “He was both a generous donor and a longtime member of the Foundation Board of Directors. I had the pleasure to visit with Gary in April and he regaled me with stories of attending night welding school and surmounting obstacles as he grew his business. He will be missed.”
Funeral services and a celebration of the remarkable life of Gary West are currently in the planning stages and will be announced at a later date.