Mark W. Potter '48
At Taft, where Mark Potter spent 45 of his 66 years, he was known only as “Potter,” a term of great endearment. I think it was our way of recognizing that the essence of the man was the schoolboy within, a boy coursing with creativity, curiosity and enthusiasm, and physical to his very core.
Born into a somewhat Victorian family, Mark was alone a lot early in life. He found himself sledding and skating on the ponds, thriving in the beauty of nature and in his own being. By the time he entered Taft in the fall of 1945, the essence of the boy was emerging. Plunging into all that the school offered, Potter established the patterns that would guide him through Taft and Yale. He was a class leader, fine student, gifted singer in the Oriocos even as he would be in the Whiffs, gifted athlete, devoted hockey player—beloved by all for his enthusiasms for everything he did and for all with whom he worked, played and created. After Yale came the CIA, courting Bobbie Baldwin, working with Gray Mattern and then heeding Paul Cruikshank’s call to return to Taft, to teach art and to become Woodbury’s resident artist.
We know many Potters: Potter the family man, delighting in each of his family and quietly proud of their remarkable accomplishments. Potter the outdoorsman, loving the land, especially the Adirondacks and “Brandreth,” the Weekeepeemee, dying Connecticut farms and their farmers. Potter, ever struggling to preserve wildlife and nature as it should be, a friend of the bear.
Potter the physical being, most at home on the ice with his Yale teammates, with the Senile Six, alone decking imaginary opponents on Taft’s pond pretending it was the Montreal Forum, or playing with his sons in the alumni game—a feat never to be equaled.
Potter the competitor on the courts, ever improving, setting up his opponent with compliments early on, always certain that this would be his best year ever.
Potter the artist, recording beautiful scenes to inspire us and future generations, capturing the essence of individuals great and small for their families and for generations yet to come. Potter the character, ever yodeling in the halls of Taft, sketching in faculty meetings, asking the head of school to help him jump-start cars illegally parked on campus, exercising squatter’s rights in the study hall for over two decades, splurging for 69 cents worth of gas to get home.
Potter, exhorting kids not to throw stones on the emergent ice of the pond, not to smoke in his art room, not to litter the campus.
Potter, invariably loved and respected for who he was.
Potter the teacher, finding goodness in those forgotten by others, finding creative impulses in students whose lives had been barren before, teaching us all so much about the power of encouragement and care.
Potter the friend, always there, delighting in our triumphs, urging us on, finding joy and strength in us and never expecting anything in return. In his toughest moments, he was always concerned for others first.
To the end, Potter lived a unique life. He lived for the moment and for others. In a film just made about the school, Potter was featured, and in it I think he inadvertently declared his philosophy of life. He said, “I am very hands on. I do not sneak up with little tiny details. I like the idea of walloping the picture, of being courageous.”
And so Potter was, with paintings and with life. Ken Rush ’67 wrote in the Taft Bulletin once: “I guess when all is said and done, the reason I teach is because I came into contact with a great teacher when I was a miserable failure of a student. That teacher gave me something that I can now, after 20 years of starts and stops, give back. So why do I teach? Because a teacher, Mark Potter, made so much possible in my life.”
—Lance R. Odden, head of school emeritus