If you know me, you know that I love Dr. Pepper. I’ve often said that other people have alcohol or cigarettes as their vice, but that mine is good ol’ Dr. Pepper. My love for this soda with “23 unique flavors” started as a child. My dad drank it, and therefore I drank it. We’d take these adventures in his small red ’85 Ford Ranger truck to places like Turkey Creek Landfill, and on our way back, we’d stop at a gas station and get a ‘treat’. Mine would be a Dr. Pepper. My, how things have changed!
In the summer of 1995, a new Dr. P entered my life. By that, I mean the wonderful Dr. Potts.
Dr. David Earl Potts was the president of Judson College, the school I attended and earned my Bachelor of Science degree. Now to most students, the college president may not really matter. One might go an entire college career without personally speaking to the president. But that was not the case with Dr. Potts. Granted, our Christian, all-girls liberal arts school was pretty small, making it much easier for staff to know the students, but because Dr. Potts was the way he was, he made it his goal not only to know his Judson girls, but help set them up for success in life.
But I had an even different experience with Dr. Potts than the other Judson girls. That’s because God blessed me with his daughter, Kristin Potts, as my suitemate, and eventually roommate, becoming one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
Kristin was a freshman at Judson the same year I was. And although Kristin had lived in Marion, AL for years because her dad was the president at Judson, she chose to go to school at Judson too. She didn’t mind staying in her hometown to go to school, but she did not want to be a day student (people who don’t live on campus). She wanted to experience JC life in the dorms, like other Judson girls. And that’s where our paths merged.
It was summer of 1995, and we were attending freshman orientation at Judson. Somewhere outside, between the Student Activities Center (aka the ‘J’) and Barron Dorm, Kristin and I met. I was so thrilled to meet someone like-minded and like-souled as Kristin!
My biggest fear with going to college is that I would backslide or start behaving in a way contrary to my beliefs and faith in God. As I’m sure most of you have figured out, I am/was the ultimate goody-goody! So to keep my faith and behavior in line with what I felt like pleased God, I knew I’d need to find other girls that were like me. That didn’t drink and party. Other goody-goodies like me. My prayer was, “Lord, please just send me ONE friend that is like me. Just one goody-goody girl who loves the Lord and wants her life to reflect that.” God in His great faithfulness answered my prayer. He sent me a red-haired goody-goody, with fair skin like mine, who came from a small Christian school like I did, and loved the Christian band Audio Adrenaline. God did good 😊
We ended up being suitemates that first year, and roommates the other years. She became part of my family back in Birmingham, and luckily for me, I became part of her family there in Marion. And that’s where good ol’ Dr. Potts comes into the picture.
Dr. Potts had been President of Judson for about 5 years when I came around. I went to Judson because I was offered a basketball scholarship and an academic scholarship. I’m fairly positive I wouldn’t have chosen Judson of my own volition… for the love, it was an all-girls school!! I mean, how was I going to meet my future husband there?? 😊 But because I knew “His ways are higher than my ways, and His thoughts higher than my thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9), I asked God to help me make the decision. He knew Judson was where I needed to be, so I went.
When I met Kristin that first time, she humbly told a group of us that her dad was the President. Of course, I thought that was super cool. At some point during the day, we, along with Kristin, had a chance to talk with him.
Dr. Potts was a man of small stature, but one could tell he was athletically inclined. Eventually, I learned that he biked and ran a lot. I’m pretty sure he played tennis too. As he spoke to our little group, his kind voice and easy-going nature put me at ease. I felt like my ‘freshman anxiety’ started to dissipate the more he talked to us. And the way he treated us, you would never have even known he was the President of the college. Just an extremely humble man, who talked to us like we were his own daughters.
Kristin and I lived in Barron Dorm, which is basically next door to the President’s Mansion where the Potts family lived. Because Kristin and I had hit it off so well, we spent a good amount of time together, which included going over to her parents’ house. If we were hungry and didn’t have any snacks, we’d run over there to raid their pantry. If we needed to borrow the washer and dryer because the dorm ones were busy, we’d run over and use theirs. If we were just bored at the dorm, we’d just go over there and hang out. And if we were sick or hurting, we’d go over there to get some medicine. I remember one time, I had a bunch of bug bites on my ankle. They were itching and bothering me so bad. Kristin suggested we go to her house and see if there was any medicine. Once we got there, Dr. Potts decided to investigate to see if he could figure out what it was and how to treat it. Probably one of my favorite Judson pictures ever. To me, it epitomizes the very nature of Dr. David Potts – servant leadership – the president of a college, holding the foot of a lowly freshman.
Sometimes, when the dining hall lunch wasn’t serving something that Kristin and I liked, Dr. Potts would take us to lunch. He would take us to a restaurant called ‘Breck’s’. It had the best chicken fingers and ranch dressing. I’m pretty sure it went out of business before I even graduated, but I sure did enjoy those lunches. Dr. Potts would ask us about our classes and schoolwork. He’d ask me about my family back in Birmingham and how basketball practice was going. He’d laugh at my ridiculous jokes like they were super funny (although I know they weren’t). He’d talk to me just like he talked to Kristin, his very own daughter sitting right next to me in the same booth. And that’s just how he was – he was like a father to all us Judson girls.
Dr. Potts was also an avid reader. Two of my favorite items to this day are books that he and Mrs. Beth (Kristin’s mom) gave me. He gave me one titled “Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians”. He wrote in the front, “Sarah, I am proud of your progress and achievement at Judson! God’s blessings to you.” For my graduation, he gave me ‘Daughters of the Dream’ which tells of the history of Judson. He wrote, “Sarah, Congratulations on an exemplary academic experience. You are a gifted young woman with a bright future. Thank you for your friendship to Kristin. May God continue to bless you.” And I didn’t realize it until just recently that he didn’t sign either of them as ‘Dr. David Potts’. Just his name, David Potts. Once more, showing his humility by leaving his title off.
As things go, you graduate college and you go your separate ways. But there are those certain friends that although you may see only once a year, it’s like nothing ever changed. That’s how it is with Kristin. And over these past 20 years (oh my word, I’m old!) that I’ve been away from old Mother Judson, I was able to see Dr. Potts a few times. And although his hair was a bit whiter, his easy demeanor and kind words always greeted me, just like he had done that summer of 1995.
Over the past few months, I had been getting these text messages from Kristin asking me to pray for her dad. She wouldn’t tell me exactly what was going on, but to please pray for his complete healing. Dr. Potts had been battling a severe illness, but had been very private about it. In true Dr. Potts fashion, he didn’t want to worry or burden others. It had been a couple of weeks since I heard from Kristin, so I assumed that he was doing well. Needless to say, it was a great shock to me on March 28, when Kristin texted me and said her Daddy was now in heaven. I felt as though someone had punched me square in the gut. I had prayed for complete healing, but this was not the complete healing I was talking about! This man is too young, too fit, too important, too vital to the city of Marion and Perry County, and mostly, too loved by family and friends to be gone. Surely this was a mistake. Surely.
But no. It wasn’t a mistake. Dr. Potts had graced the threshold of heaven. In my very earthly mind, I think maybe my mom was one of the first to greet him there. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He heard these words from the Lord he so loved: “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
On April 8, 2018, there was a Celebration of Life service for Dr. Potts at Alumnae Auditorium at Judson College. The service began with his favorite hymn, “Joyful, Joyful”. For the rest of the service, different people spoke about Dr. Potts and what he meant to them. Someone from the staff of Judson spoke about what an incredible leader Dr. Potts was, and how although he was often recruited to go to much larger academic institutions, he always chose Judson.
Someone from the community spoke about how much Dr. Potts had invested and poured into the city of Marion and Perry County. Marion is a very small town in what is considered the Blackbelt of Alabama. The program from the service said, “Potts endeavored to improve education, healthcare, and economic development in Perry County and the Black Belt region of Alabama. He was a founding board member of Sowing Seeds of Hope, Marion Academy, and Alabama Possible.” He knew that he could help make a difference in this very poor part of Alabama. But instead of just talking about it, he put action to his words. I would see pictures of him working on homes or doing other types of work around the community.
The President Emeritus from the University of Mobile and the President of Samford University, both colleagues and friends of Dr. Potts spoke. They shared how Dr. Potts truly loved Judson College, and that he did indeed live what he believed.
As the service continued, the list of speakers continued. An alumna, a trustee, a student, a friend. About an hour and a half of testimony to this selfless, humble, gentleman, who loved the Lord above all else. And that love made him a better husband, father, grandfather, president, advocate, and to me and hundreds of other Judson girls, a surrogate father. Amazingly, all these speakers echoed the same thing: Dr. David Earl Potts was a man of great integrity and character, who exemplified servant leadership, loved his family, and took care of the least of these.
Usually, when I write a blog post, there’s some sort of spiritual lesson or insight the Lord has spoken to me through some mundane event in my life that I feel like I should share with others. But with this post, I’ve been trying to figure out what the need was for me to write it. And I think what the Lord has shown me as I’ve reflected on the life of Dr. Potts over this past month is three-fold:
1 – A way to say thank you. Dr. Potts, I’m forever grateful for your guidance, care, and example for those 4 years I was a Judson. Thank you for watching over and taking care of me, sweeping me into your family. Thank you for being my home away from home and father-figure to me and countless other Judson girls. My only regret is that I didn’t tell you this personally, while you were still here with us. I also want to thank Mrs. Beth, Kristin, and Shannon. Thank you for sharing your husband and father with so many people – staff and students – for so many years! I’m sure at times it was hard, but please know that your generosity was such a blessing to many, many people. He couldn’t have accomplished or given so much without the powerful, selfless women behind him.
2 – A way to grieve. I tend to grieve by reminiscing about the good times I had with the person who passed away. It helps me heal and brings me peace. A definition of ‘grief’ I found was “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow”. While I’m going through the grieving process, I think back through my past experiences with that person, and I feel God exchanging that ‘sharp sorrow’ for ‘sweet peace’, thanking Him for the time I did have with that person. So going through my pictures books, yearbooks, and prayer journals from my Judson years was so good for my soul. To remember how God answered my prayers when He gave me Kristin as a friend, how Dr. Potts was just excited as we were the night that Scott proposed to me (at the Rose Arbor at Judson 😊), and how Dr. Potts took care of my foot that night so long ago with my hair up in a towel! All those wonderful memories help the sorrow to dissolve into sweet peace.
3 – A way to live. Dr. Potts exemplified servant leadership, like Christ showed us when He washed his disciples feet (John 13). Although Jesus was King of all Creation, He knelt down and washed the nasty feet of those disciples. Verses 14-15 says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Dr. Potts took Christ’s example and command, and lived it out himself. Not only literally for me, like when he took my foot and made sure it was okay, but metaphorically as well, serving all He came in contact with. And his example lives on. At his celebration of life service, an auditorium full of people including myself felt encouraged and inspired to live our lives in the same fashion that Dr. Potts had – a life of humble servant leadership, seeking the good of others first, and helping meet the need wherever that might be.
My last blog was about the fragrance of worship. How we are to be living sacrifices, as described in Romans 12:1, offering a sweet and pleasing aroma to the Lord and to all that cross our path. I feel like Dr. Potts did just that. I hope to smell as good as him one day.
Tuesdays with Sarah… The Old America Store and the Fragrance of Worship