Oral History of Dorothy West
Interviewed by Ariana Barone on April 9, 2008
When interviewing Dorothy West, formerly Dorothy Nunn, I soon realized that I was talking to a very smart woman. She was bright, endearing, and very educated; by far, she is one of the sweetest ladies I've ever met. She's the kind of grandma that everyone wishes they had. I learned a great deal about Dorothy's life and why she is such a special woman.
Dorothy West was born in El Paso, Texas in 1942. She had 3 siblings: Thomas, Margie and Betty. She was very close to her siblings and loved to spend time with them. Her father was James R. Nunn, and he was in the military. Her mother, Helen Berry, was a library director. Dorothy's parents were both from Texas. They met at skating rink in El Paso, Texas when they were young and were married for 43 years until her mother passed away.
Dorothy's father was in the Air Force, which caused them to move around a lot. She went to 13 different grade schools before finally moving to Gilbert in 1957. Her father was once stationed at Williams Air Force Base and decided to move back. Her first impressions of Gilbert were negative; she thought it was a dirty, dismal, boring-looking town. The grade school had an old ratty looking swing set with no grass or trees anywhere. However, the house they moved into was a very nice, new cookie cutter house. She really liked it because all she could remember living in before was military housing which wasn't as nice as her new house in Gilbert.
Before coming to Gilbert, she made a lot of friends in school because most of the kids were all military brats like her. But when she got to Gilbert and started going to Gilbert High School, she found it harder to make friends because she was considered the "new kid." In high school she liked to ride her bike, swim, and play with her brother and sisters. She was involved in the Girls' Club, Honors Society and, The Annual, the high school yearbook. She was the editor and enjoyed being a part of that immensely. She graduated from Gilbert in 1960.
After high school, Dorothy attended ASU for 2 years. She says she loved the freedom of living in the dorms. Even though at this time they weren't coed like they are now and they had a curfew, she still had a good time. She was always used to having a very structured and disciplined life under her parents' house, but living in the dorms was a very freeing experience to her.
After the first 2 years at ASU, she married and began having kids. She took about 7 or 8 years off of school to raise her family. When she first got married, they moved to Nevada and spent the first 2 years of married life there. It was hard because she was away from her family and had a little baby to take care of. Yet, Dorothy loved being a housewife and taking care of her family. After being in Nevada, they moved back to the Gilbert area. Dorothy and her husband Bill had 3 kids: Tom was the oldest, and then there was William, and finally Derek--all boys. She said she would have liked to have a girl, but she was more than happy to raise her 3 sons. Today, Dorothy and her husband are going on 46 years of marriage.
Later, Dorothy went back to school and earned her degree in Biology in 1979. At first she didn't use her degree, but then she obtained a job working for a pharmaceutical company and liked that. She worked for the pharmaceutical company for 20 years as a "drug rep." It was her responsibility to meet with doctors about their pharmaceutical needs. There was also a lot of traveling from the East coast back to the West coast. It took her 3 years to get the degree she needed for this job, but she liked doing what she did. Dorothy thought the other kinds of jobs that required her degree were boring, such as working in a lab, and that just didn't appeal to her at all. When she first started working for her company, she was the only woman in her division. As time went on, more and more women started entering her field. She told me the pay was very good and she enjoyed her work.
As for being a woman, she says that experience has never negatively affected her. She suggested one way it might have was her relationship with her father because he was so strict and "unbending". Both she and her husband grew up in families where the wife was supposed to stay and work in the home and let their husbands be the decision makers. But she says that they were on the turning edge of when women started having more say in the household.
Someone who greatly influenced Dorothy growing up was her mother. Dorothy told me her mother was very supportive, forgiving, and always set a good example. She wished she had learned more from her. Another person who was very influential to her was her mother's father, William Berry. "He was the kindest, most gentle person I ever met in my life." Dorothy believes her mother got quality that from him.
After talking with Dorothy about her life I came to realize that I was talking to a very smart and wise woman. She was a woman who got an education and raised a family and worked at a time when not a lot of women did. I wish I would have had more time to talk to her and learn from her, because I could tell she could have a lot to teach me. It was definitely a privilege to interview Dorothy Nunn West.
Photos courtesy of the family/Gilbert Historical Museum.
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