‘A woman and her island’: 108-year-old remembered for preservation efforts on Ossabaw Island

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OSSABAW ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – Eleanor Torrey-West — affectionately called ‘Sandy’ — was best known for her dedication to preserving the natural beauty of Georgia’s third-largest barrier island, Ossabaw Island. She died last Sunday on her 108th birthday.

People who worked with West are remembering her for her fierce dedication to her mission of preservation, conservation, and discovery. Often, she served as the connector between nature and agencies who could protect it.

One example is her connection to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“From the beaches, to the dunes, and then moving interior into freshwater wetlands and all the oak and pine Forrests… [Ossabaw Island] is truly unique in that manner,” said Ted Will, the Director of the Wildlife Resources Division at DNR.

Elizabeth DuBose, the Executive Director of the Ossabaw Island Foundation, says the island’s cultural identity is made even more unique by West, who singlehandedly commanded the island’s 26 thousand acres of unspoiled land.

“We always say she’s our muse and our matriarch,” said DuBose. “But Sandy West is a person who will tell you her favorite thing was the island and the animals on the island.”

In fact, DuBose — who says she knew West since she was in her 80s — says animals were known to follow West around the island.

West lived permanently on the island for decades at her parent’s winter home. Construction started on the home nearly a century ago in 1924.

“So there she was…the woman and her island,” said DuBose.

In 1978, West took steps to protect the island from further development. She sold the parcel of land to the State of Georgia. Through an executive order, it then became the state’s first Heritage Preserve. Today, there are 128.

“This designation assures the protection and conservation and preservation of all those cultural and natural resources on the island,” explained Will.

And when curiosity about Ossabaw’s protector brought visitors to her shores, West welcomed them with open arms.

“Even though she is no longer living with us, we still feel her all around this island and here at the foundaiton as well,” said DuBose. “That’s the beauty of her…she melted herself so much into the island that I think when people visit Ossabaw Island, they will still catch the spirit of Sandy West.”

Funeral services for West have not yet been scheduled.

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