K.C. Potter imparted wisdom and put a personal touch on his role as dean
by Kara Furlong
Not long after signs were erected announcing the Euclid building’s new identity as the Office of LGBTQI Life and the K.C. Potter Center, a hand-written, paper note was left on one of the signs.
It was from an alumna who was visiting campus with her son, a prospective student. She happened by, saw the name K.C. Potter, and excitedly jotted a message of “hello” to the former dean, hoping it would eventually reach his hands.
Such is the indelible impact that Potter, who lived and worked at Vanderbilt for more than three decades, had on students, faculty and fellow administrators.
Associate Dean of Students Sandy Stahl befriended Potter when she was a Vanderbilt undergraduate in the late 1960s. When her husband was finishing law school at Vanderbilt, Potter hired the couple to serve as resident advisers in McTyeire Hall. Stahl began working with Potter full-time in 1981 when she became Vanderbilt’s Greek adviser.
“He was the best mentor I’ve ever had, and one of the reasons I remained the Greek adviser for 16 years,” Stahl said.
Potter never failed to champion someone or something he believed in, no matter the opposition.
“Back then, it was unusual for a woman to advise the fraternities, and some of the fraternities didn’t appreciate it,” Stahl said. “A fraternity stormed into his office one day complaining about ‘that woman.’ And K.C. calmly said, ‘She can do the job. I have confidence in her.’ He helped the students, the men at that time, appreciate the fact that it didn’t matter what your gender was. It’s your commitment to the job and the students that really counts.
“He was always a good counselor and taught me about the politics of the university and was a wonderful example of how to work with people, even difficult people,” she said. “And I’ve been here now for 27 years.”
Stahl remembers Potter always having the students’ best interests at heart. Whenever one was suspended from the university for disciplinary reasons, he or she would often bemoan the sudden interruption to their life’s expected course.
“They would say, ‘What can I do when I’m suspended from school?’” Stahl said. “And K.C.’s standard answer was, ‘Go lay bricks. Go build something. Do something constructive and entirely different from being a student, and figure out who you are and what your values are.’ And inevitably they would come back to him and say, ‘Thank you – it worked.’ And then they’d finish school in fine form.”
Potter also built a life away from Vanderbilt. In 1971, he purchased a 177-acre farm in Hickman County, near Centerville, Tenn., where he began spending weekends and vacations. In 1991, he constructed a Victorian-style house on the property. In 1997, he underwent quadruple bypass surgery.
“I spent two and a half months out there recovering in the spring of the year, and I thought, ‘I could really get used to this,’” Potter said. He retired from Vanderbilt in June 1998 at age 58.
For the last 10 years, Potter has lived on the farm with his partner, Richard Patrick, a musician who also runs his own lawn care and landscaping business. Potter describes Patrick’s outgoing personality as a good counterbalance to his own more quiet nature. Together they have four “come along” dogs, mixed breeds rescued from animal shelters or adopted from friends.
Potter spends his days farming, working in his prodigious vegetable garden, and reading history and biography books.
The easy pace of country life suits him. While bow ties were his trademark apparel while at Vanderbilt, “This is the first time I’ve worn a tie in a couple of years,” he boasted during a recent return visit to campus.
The one thing Potter does miss: the students.
“I miss the daily interaction with them,” he said. “I miss their ideas and their energy.”