Lawyer Gail Berry West was born on September 29, 1942 in Cincinnati, Ohio to Johnnie Mae Newton and Theodore Berry. She received her B.A. degree in history from Fisk University in 1964, graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, her M.A. degree in history from the University of Cincinnati in 1965, and her J.D. degree from Howard University School of Law in 1968.
In 1969, West began her career in the New York office of the general counsel for the International Business Machine Corporation (IBM). Upon moving to Washington, D.C., she transferred to the data processing division and also served as an attorney in litigation analysis. In this position, she assisted with outside counsel in the preparation of litigation between IBM and the federal government.
In 1977, West joined the Carter administration as special assistant to Patricia Roberts Harris, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She went on to work for Sarah Weddington, assistant to President Jimmy Carter, in the White House and served on the White House Task Force on Sex Discrimination. In 1980, West became deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of the Air Force in Reserve Affairs and Installations. She was responsible for policy, program guidance and executive direction for all matters pertaining to compliance with equal employment laws and regulations. She then worked as an attorney and consultant for several companies seeking contracts with the federal government.
In 1983, she became executive director of government affairs for Bell Communications (Bellcore), where she served for twelve years until 1995, when she became director of government relations for Armstrong World Industries (AWI). From 2003 to 2007, West served as a consultant for AWI until her retirement.
West has served on the board of trustees for the Corcoran Gallery of Art, WETA, Meridian International Center and the Fisher House Foundation. She was also a board member of Arena Stage, the Decatur House Council, the D.C. Commission on Fine Arts, and the National Museum of American History. She served as the vice regent for the District of Columbia to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. She also serves on the board of the White House Historical Association, the Hillwood Estate Museum & Gardens, and is a member of the dean’s council for the Washington National Cathedral.
West is the recipient of numerous awards including; IBM Regional Manager’s Merit Award for Outstanding Contribution, Air Force Medal for Exceptional Civilian Service, Bellcore President’s Recognition Award and the Armstrong General Manager’s Award for Team Excellence.
West and her husband, the late Togo D. West, Jr., have two daughters, Tiffany West Smink and Hilary Carter West.
Gail Berry West was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 17, 2019.