Jeffrey Potter

April 12, 1918 - Dec. 15, 2012
Jeffrey Potter

    Jeffrey Brackett Potter died at Southampton Hospital on Saturday after a brief case of pneumonia. He was 94. A resident of East Hampton, he was the author of several books, including an oral biography of Jackson Pollock, “To a Violent Grave,” which was published in 1985. He also wrote two works of children’s fiction that were published by Viking Press, “Elephant Bridge” and “Robin is a Bear.” At one time, he ran a marine construction company here, East Hampton Dredge and Dock, whose motto was “Your Bottom is Our Business.” 
    He was born at home in New York City on April 12, 1918, to Mary Barton Atterbury and Joseph Wiltsie Fuller Potter. He was the last surviving member of his family, his sisters, Helen Potter and Polly Balding, and brothers, Fuller Potter and Charles Potter, having died before him.
    Mr. Potter went to St. Bernard’s School in New York, summering as a child at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton. In the seventh grade he enrolled as a boarder at the Groton School, where he said there had “always been a Potter” since the school’s founding. He dropped out at the end of his junior year, however, in a dispute over a failing grade on a science test, and never completed high school. He went to work as a reporter in Columbia, S.C., where he told of witnessing the electrocution of a young African-American charged with murder, whom he believed was innocent.
    He also worked in Hamilton, Ohio, on the factory floor of a company building steam locomotives, and had a lifelong love for cars and machinery. His family said he attempted to volunteer for service in the Spanish Civil War, but was rejected as too young. Though a staunch Democrat in later years, he was arrested in 1941 for dropping leaflets from an airplane over Hamilton that said, “No Third Term,” referring to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a former classmate of his father’s at Groton — a relationship Mr. Potter later described in a piece for The New Yorker.
    Blind in one eye, he was ineligible for the military at the start of World War II and served for about two years in the merchant marine on two ships that were torpedoed by German U-boats. He then joined the American Field Service and was attached to the Royal Indian Army, serving with Sikhs and Gurkhas in combat against the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. He was twice mentioned in dispatches, for exceptional bravery as a combat medic and ambulance driver.
    After the war, Mr. Potter worked in New York as a stage manager. He and his first wife, Madeleine Penelope Sack, with whom he had three children, moved in 1949 to Amagansett. They bought Amagansett’s Stony Hill Farm, and started a riding academy. They were divorced in 1959. In 1963, he married Diana Hitt and moved to Tyringham, Mass. They had one child. Their marriage also ended in divorce.
    In the next decade, Mr. Potter published a book on oil spills consequent to tankers running aground, “Disaster by Oil” in 1973, and, in 1976, a biography of the newspaper owner and publisher Dorothy Schiff, called “Men, Money and Magic.” He also contributed short pieces to The New Yorker. In New York, he remained a longtime member of the Century Association.
    In 1981, he and Priscilla Bowden of East Hampton, a painter, were married. Although continuing to live in East Hampton, they spent 15 summers in Weymouth, Nova Scotia, which Mr. Potter would leave only reluctantly, loving the pastoral beauty of the seacoast and the friends he made there. In East Hampton, he hosted a series of programs for LTV, the public access channel, called “Meet Your Neighbor, Neighbor,” interviewing local personalities and adding valuable material to the archives. 
    Mr. Potter is survived by his wife  and four children, Job Potter and Manon (Madeleine) Potter, both of East Hampton, Gayle Potter Basso of Heber, Ariz., and Horatio Potter of Wilsall, Mont., and New York, as well as five grandchildren. Two great-grandchildren  are on the way.
    His ashes will be placed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, which he was proud to say was founded by Episcopal bishops in his family. There will be a memorial service at a future date. Contributions in his memory can be made to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach 11978 or to the American Civil Liberties Union.