Remembering P. Stephen Potter: A man who lived life to the fullest
Unique. That is a word used to describe P. Stephen Potter by those who knew him.
He was notorious for doing things his way and was well respected as an attorney, a businessman, and a friend.
Potter died Oct. 24 at Hilltop Estates in Gothenburg, surrounded by people who loved him.
Potter was known for his antics and successes in the courtroom, but he had other claims to fame as well.
For 36 years, he was known as the “hot dog man” at Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. Every home game Saturday Potter would dress in his Husker attire, warm up his throwing arm and hit the stands with a basket of hot dogs. He’d sling the game-day fare into the stands as customers threw their money back. CBS News correspondent Charles Kuralt even visited Gothenburg in 1986 and featured Potter in a special “On the Road” segment.
Potter started his hot dog vendor gig in 1963 dressed in a too-small suit he purchased at a Lincoln Goodwill store and a tie hand-painted by a fan. He often credited his outfit for getting him recognized as the hot dog man by Husker fans everywhere he went.
But as his many friends, colleagues and family members gather this week to share memories of Potter, it is his faithful friendships, love of the outdoors, and deep-rooted relationships that stand out most.
State Sen. Matt Williams considers Potter a life-long friend.
“Our parents were good friends, and we went to the same church growing up,” said Williams.
And though Potter was four years older than Williams, the two found many common bonds throughout the years.
As the son of a Gothenburg pharmacist, Potter went to pharmacy school at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.
After earning a degree in pharmacy in 1969, Potter worked in a Lincoln pharmacy to pay his way through law school. In 1972, he graduated from Creighton University School of Law.
“He was older than me, but because he went to pharmacy school first, we ended up going to law school at the same time. I spent a lot of time at his apartment during those years,” Williams recalled.
Theirs was a friendship that would continue long after both had completed college and established careers. Potter was a groomsman at Williams’ wedding, and Williams said his children and grandchildren refer to Potter as “Uncle Steve.”
Potter’s first job out of law school was in the Hall County prosecutor’s office.
“He had a ponytail even then, so he wore a short wig into the courtroom so he would be taken more seriously as a prosecutor,” said Williams.
He didn’t wear the wig long — only about two weeks. By then, he had earned enough respect on his merits for his boss to overlook the ponytail.
It became apparent that prosecution was not the side Potter wanted to argue. His heart was geared to helping people — defending them. And he became a prominent defense attorney as a result.
“He, as much as anybody I know, loved the practice of law,” said Williams. “It gave him the opportunity to help people and the opportunity to perform. And he was a master of both.”
Williams had a great deal of respect for his friend in the courtroom, but that paled in comparison to his opinion of Potter on a personal level.
“He would absolutely give you the shirt off his back. Who does that? He cared deeply about his relationships with people,” said Williams.
As he recalled some of the “crazy and fun things” they used to do together, one event, in particular, stands out in his mind.
“He hosted a Super Bowl party every year, which always included chopping a hole in the ice and taking a little dip. Then we would jump out and run to the hot tub as fast as we could,” Williams laughed, clearly picturing the memory.
“He worked hard. Steve was the epitome of ‘work hard and play hard.’ He enjoyed life,” said Williams. “We talked a lot about things over the years, and the thought of not being able to be active was not something he would have chosen.”
He opened his law practice in 1980 in Gothenburg and served as the Dawson County public defender for five years. On Sept. 2, 1990, Potter married Beth Barrett on a hill overlooking Jeffrey Lake south of Brady. He and Beth had one child, Betsy, born Nov. 18, 1995.
Michele Blagdon worked as Potter’s administrative assistant for the past four years, and like all his friends, she said she is feeling a great sense of loss.
“I learned so much from this man,” she said, as she sifts through photos in his office. “It’s crazy the amount of knowledge he had — not just in law, but in life in general.”
He loved dancing and studied art in New York. He considered becoming a dancer until a skiing accident shattered his ankle and left him with a limp. He worked for a time as a drug counselor in Omaha, and as a bartender in Lincoln, though Williams said Potter never imbibed.
The stories about Potter’s life and the man he was are many. Potter was once quoted as saying, “It’s impossible to sum me up.” He was right.
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