The art of the obituary: Larry Potter

Larry Potter was a black man in mostly-white Moorhead, reader Nick Pladson remembered as he sent along his obituary today.

“I remember him letting us spend a gym class watching Bo Jackson’s return to baseball after his recovery for his broken hip because Bo was such an impressive athlete,” Nick wrote to me. “I also remember him confronting prejudice when it came out of the mouths of the 5th and 6th grade students he taught. Those were uncomfortable conversations, but I think extremely important for us kids.”

Nick’s tribute was almost as inspiring as the one his daughters wrote. Almost.

There isn’t anything available to read in the world on this day than this.

This is not our father’s life story. It’s almost nothing, in fact- just a few words about him from somebody who loved him. I will never be able to tell it the way it really was. Seen through my eyes, it can only be the perspective of one person- one person out of the hundred thousand other beings whose paths he crossed over 64 years.

Most of this community will know our dad as Mr. Potter, their Phy Ed teacher, or Larry Potter, a local basketball legend, or Brother Larry, an active member of their church. To my sister and me he was just “dad.” He made the best hamburgers, but put too much pepper in the eggs. He popped popcorn the old-fashioned way, on the burner with lots of butter added at just the right temperature, so it didn’t shrink the puffs. When he laughed, he put his full body into it. “Still has impeccable teeth,“ my mom said in his last hospital room. She used to joke that if the house ever caught on fire, he’d stop to brush and floss before escaping the flames. He spoke each word slowly and deliberately, and paused to absorb your words with a nod of understanding before speaking again. He taught himself to read music; the memory of him picking out a song on the guitar, strolling around from room to room as he sang in his mellow tenor voice is a favorite of ours. He taught me to stand up for myself, even when it meant standing up against him, a man who towered over most at 6’5”.

He was quirky, private, tenderhearted and generously giving. He was intelligent, much more so than he believed himself to be. When he set his mind to a project, he presented it with every detail thought through. When he wrote, it was in capital letters, slanted and finished with a little loop at the angles. He pulled out a ruler to underline a passage and a stencil to circle a number.

He was a spectacular athlete. Celebrated for achievements in track and football, he is remembered most for the way he could light up the basketball court. With grace in his movements and the ability to connect instinctively with his teammates, he caught the eye of scouts from across the nation and in Europe, even spending a short time playing in the Phoenix Sun’s post-draft pro summer league. Forty-five years later my stepdad can still tell me stories of his games heard on the radio, impressed upon the young mind of a Detroit Lakes farm kid.

Our dad was a black man, coming of age during the violent shift of the Civil Rights Movement. Merely one generation above us, he was among the first black American citizens who could vote. I used to see him waving to strangers we passed, though he never said much about why. Years later, I finally understood that the strangers, all dark-skinned, shared in silent acknowledgement a perspective that had been marred with experiences of hatred for hating’s sake. How do you forget that? How do you see some of the things he had seen and love generously anyway?

But, he did, and people noticed. I take away most vividly the collective ways in which he worked to uplift as many individuals as he could reach: in teaching, preaching, giving, singing, and creating music.

Our dad, unfortunately, focused on his shortcomings instead of his strengths, and he spent most of what I saw of his life in that state of mind. I’m not writing to tell you he was perfect, or paint a shiny portrait of only the best parts of him. Like every one of us, he was a human being with a life painted in both brights and grays. It’s my hope, as one- just one- of those people who loved him for who he was, that you will remember him for all of his truths, not just the best of him, knowing that, for the rest of our own lives, we will celebrate and miss him because of the man he never stopped trying to become.

Larry Potter was born September 10, 1952, in Duluth, MN, to Geneal Taylor and Olice Potter. He had eight siblings: Mae (Leon) Redding, Freaman “Sonny” Potter, Bill Potter, Steve Potter, Ronnie (Carol) Potter, Stan Potter, Jeanine Chapman, and Kim (Trent) Potter-Thompson. He was married to Nancy Center (now Stensgard) from 1974 to 1992, and helped create daughters Tia Potter Toussaint and Cana Potter. He was later married to Ruth Waaraniemi from 2001 to 2003. He attended Central High School (Duluth, MN), Vermillion Community College (Ely, MN) and Moorhead State University, graduating with a B.S. in Education. He was an educator and coach at Park Christian School and Moorhead Public Schools. He worshiped at Baptist and Assemblies of God congregations.

He died November 5, 2016 in Sanford Health, Fargo, ND.

To all who are reading his story, to all who have loved him, to all who have crossed his path, we thank you for adding to the richness of this man’s life.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to InSports Foundation or Little Kids Rock.

A Visitation for Larry will be one hour prior to his funeral service.

His Funeral Service will be Saturday, November 12, 2016, at 1:00 PM, in Korsmo Funeral Chapel, Moorhead.

Burial will be in Moorhead Memorial Gardens, Moorhead.

For addition inspiration, you’ll want to read the notes from former students on the tribute wall.