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At times, deciding the subject matter for the Weekly 150 is an arduous task, but this week’s article has been on my mind since the inception of the column. There are many people and events that …
At times, deciding the subject matter for the Weekly 150 is an arduous task, but this week’s article has been on my mind since the inception of the column. There are many people and events that have made an impression and molded me into the person I am today. Academically and scholarly, the person probably most dear to my heart was Dr. James L. Potts.
Over a four-year span, I developed a greater appreciation and love for history from my mentor. Nearly twenty years later, I can still hear the baritone and gravelly voice expounding on an array of topics embedded into my subconscious. Tales of Hannibal crossing the Alps to Andrew Jackson’s part in the Trail of Tears still resonate from his basement classroom.
Those who survived his entry-level courses and moved on to more advanced topics had an opportunity to learn about Jim Potts the person. Periodically he opened up about the tobacco fields of his youth, to his work in the train yards and joining the Navy with plans of fighting in World War II. I, like so many others, planned to thank my mentor but life got in the way of my actions. Even though Dr. Potts is no longer with us, I still feel it appropriate to say, Thanks Doc for taking time with a naive freshman and molding him into a historian. Your stories and passion will be carried on through the ages.
James L. Potts, Jr. was born on October 3, 1927, in Dayton, Kentucky, a small hamlet located on the Ohio River, three miles from Cincinnati, Ohio. At the conclusion of his year in second grade, his father, James Sr., a barber, and his mother, Georgia moved the family to Paducah, Kentucky.
During his last two years of high school, Jim began working the night shift as a yard clerk for the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis (NC&StL) Railroad. In the spring of 1945, after high school graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in order to avoid being drafted into the Army. With World War II still going on in the Pacific, he had plans of fighting the Japanese.
He attended basic training in New York and was sent to San Francisco to train as a radar technician. At the conclusion of his training, he was to be assigned to a Landing Ship Tank (LST), but Japan surrendered before his orders came through.
Instead of taking part in an assault on Japan, Jim found himself stationed at a receiving station in San Francisco. His skill set as a typist learned with the railroad made him an asset to the Navy as he helped process the paperwork necessary to muster returning troops into civilian life.
In 1948, after three years of service, Yeoman Potts was discharged. During the summer, he married Frances Bandy. The marriage produced two daughters, Frances and Rebecca.
On October 1, 1948, he took his first steps into academia by starting school at Paducah Junior College. In the fall of 1950, he transitioned to the University of Kentucky at Lexington. He graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Social Sciences.
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