Harmon S. Potter, one of the University of Rochester's most ubiquitous and well-loved ambassadors, died Wednesday (July 8) at St. John's Home. He was 84.
Mr. Potter, known fondly as Harm, was devoted to the University. For more than 50 years, he served in an extraordinary range of positions in admissions, alumni relations, and development, as well as University secretary and special assistant to the president.
His own gift for salesmanship and his unabashed dedication to the institution raised millions for the University. A member of the Class of 1938, Mr. Potter always said he felt fortunate to be admitted to the University, and was forever grateful.
"Harm was truly 'one of a kind,' " said Richard P. Miller Jr., senior vice president of the University. "His life was uniquely intertwined with his University and he had a true passion for, and sense of what was important about Rochester. I doubt that a day didn't pass by without his doing something for his alma mater," Miller said.
Mr. Potter graduated cum laude with a degree in economics - he later received a master's degree in education from the University - and headed off for a sales position with IBM. His professional career at the University began in 1941, when he was offered a job in admissions.
He took a break from University employment to serve in the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant during World War II. He earned nine combat stars during his service and returned to the University in 1946.
Through his fundraising and alumni work, Mr. Potter was known and admired for his enthusiasm and love for the University. He established a network of alumni clubs nationwide, shepherded alumni tour groups, and generally impressed people with "a passion for the place," said former University president Dennis O'Brien.
A University scholarship was created in Mr. Potter's honor in 1985-86 for students with the potential to follow his example: those who exhibit sound scholastic achievement, demonstrate outstanding leadership ability and strength of character through service to school and community, and who show promise of sustaining such leadership throughout their careers.
Mr. Potter had been arranging a 60th reunion event for his class before suffering a cerebral hemorrhage more than a month ago.
A native of Rochester, Mr. Potter was a graduate of Brighton High School, where he was captain of its first football team and president of the student government association.
Mr. Potter, a resident of Pittsford for many years, was involved in community organizations. He was president of the Rochester Rotary Club from 1974-75, and was a director of the Monroe County Easter Seals for 12 years. The Rotary Club honored him in 1980 as a Paul Harris Fellow "in appreciation of tangible and significant assistance given for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations between peoples of the world."
Mr. Potter is survived by his wife, Juanita, of Rochester; two sons, Harmon S. Potter Jr., of Rochester, and Craig A. Potter, of Pittsford; a daughter, Gail Parello, of Boston, Mass.; a brother, the Rev. A. Claire Potter, of Fairport; three grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and several nieces, nephews and cousins. Burial was private.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Interfaith Chapel on the University's River Campus.
Memorials may be sent to the Harmon S. Potter Scholarship Fund, c/o University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627 or to the Rochester Rotary Club, 120 E. Main St., Rochester, NY 14604.