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Harry West, Former ARC Executive Director, Passes Away

West served as executive director for the Atlanta Regional Commission between 1973 and 2000, making him the longest serving person in the post.

Benjamin "Harry" West, 72, passed away on Monday at Emory University from a lung infection. Credit: H.M. Patterson & Son-Oglethorpe Hill Chapel.
Benjamin "Harry" West, 72, passed away on Monday at Emory University from a lung infection. Credit: H.M. Patterson & Son-Oglethorpe Hill Chapel.
The man who led the Atlanta Regional Commission for nearly 30 years has passed away.

Benjamin "Harry" West, 72, passed away at Emory University Hospital from a lung infection, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle

West served as the executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission between 1973 and 2000.

West, who was the ARC's longest serving executive director, is credited with building "stronger ties among community leaders and fostering a regional approach to tackling metro Atlanta’s most challenging issues," the ARC said in a press release.

"Harry West's legacy to the Atlanta Regional Commission and to the Atlanta region is immeasurable,” said Doug Hooker, current ARC executive director. “He developed programs and created a sense of regional connectedness, which still reverberate positively today. More importantly, he had a vision, a dedication, and a high set of standards, which will continue to propel metro Atlanta far into the future." 

Some of his accomplishments include aggressively pursuing efforts to ensure adequate water resources for the Atlanta region, as well as protection for the Chattahoochee River corridor. 

He conceived and launched the Regional Leadership Institute in 1991, which has graduated some 1,500 leaders from the immersion program on key regional issues. 

West also launched the annual LINK city visits program (Leadership, Involvement, Knowledge and Networking) to learn how others are dealing with similar urban challenges, and he also spearheaded the 16-year-old regional youth leadership program, Model Atlanta Regional Commission (MARC).

In the mid-1980s, during his tenure, ARC also began conducting reviews of development proposals of a certain size to determine the potential impacts to the region’s water supply, transportation capacity, air quality and other infrastructure. The Developments of Regional Impact review was later instituted statewide in the Georgia Planning Act of 1989.

In 1991, West also led the largest collaborative visioning and planning effort ever conducted in the United States as of that time, known as VISION 2020. It sought to provide a new style for community decision-making in the Atlanta region by creating a shared future vision through extensive citizen participation. Many other American communities have copied the VISION 2020 initiative.

“Working closely with Harry West for 15 years, I was inspired by his ability to do what was best for the Atlanta region, even if it was the most difficult and politically treacherous approach,” added Julie Ralston, director of ARC’s Center for Strategic Relations.  “Where solutions seemed impossible and answers ambiguous, Harry would always determine a clear and viable approach and move forward with courage and conviction.”

According to his obituary, funeral services for West will be held on Thursday, July 17 at 11 a.m. at Oglethorpe Hill Chapel near Brookhaven. 

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