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Sports fan kept Penguins from leaving

| Monday, Jan. 14, 2013

Thayer Potter's life seemed intertwined with Pittsburgh sports history.

Mr. Potter, who went by the nickname “Tad,” ran out to home plate from the Forbes Field stands to greet Bill Mazeroski after his World Series-winning home run. Twelve years later, he was in Three Rivers Stadium for the Immaculate Reception by Steelers great Franco Harris.

Mr. Potter made his mark in his favorite sport, hockey. He was part of a group that in 1971 purchased the Penguins, keeping hockey in Pittsburgh when another buyer planned to move the team.

“They didn't want the team to leave Pittsburgh, so I would say he was the first savior of hockey here in Pittsburgh,” said Jean Potter, his wife of 58 years.

Thayer R. Potter, who owned the Penguins from 1971 until 1976, died Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in Seneca Place in Penn Hills. He was 79.

The Edgewood native loved to have fun. But his youthful hijinks led his parents to send him to Valley Forge Military Academy, where he vastly improved his academics and graduated with honors.

As a student at Penn State University, he met his future wife, Jean Kutz. The two fell in love on a fire escape at a Philadelphia hotel where they and their friends were staying as the Nittany Lions played the University of Pennsylvania in football.

They married just after graduation in June 1955, and they moved around a bit as Mr. Potter served as a reserve officer in the Navy. Eventually, they settled in the Pittsburgh area, raising their three children in O'Hara.

The couple loved sports, and they managed to get tickets to the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, sitting in a box along the third base side right behind the Yankees owners.

“Tad said, ‘Hey, if we win this game, I'm just going to jump over that (wall), and I'm going to race over to home plate,'” Jean Potter recalled.

And when Mazeroski's home run cleared the outfield wall, “Tad's gone like a shot over the fence, and he's waiting (at home plate),” Jean Potter said.

Pictures show him in his white shirt and tie greeting the Pirates second baseman.

In 1971, the lifelong hockey fan found out that a potential buyer of the Penguins planned to relocate the team. So he got a group together to buy the team and keep it in town.

Mr. Potter led the day-to-day operations.

Financial difficulties and a push by the competing World Hockey Association that led to escalating player salaries forced him to sell the team five years later.

“He just didn't have enough money to sustain it,” Jean Potter said. “(But) I think he always would have regretted it if he didn't do it and the team would have moved.”

After the Penguins, Mr. Potter turned his sights to the energy business. He formed Kitspaw Fuel, a coal brokerage service, and then moved on to site evaluation and development for O'Brien Energy of Philadelphia.

Mrs. Potter said her husband was especially proud of his work on coal bed methane projects.

“His family was prominent, and they had trust funds, but he lost that with the hockey team, so what he did with coal bed methane was his baby,” Jean Potter said. “He did that himself without help from any family members, so he was proud of that.”

Most of all, Mr. Potter loved life.

He was most at home fly-fishing in Montana, traveling with his wife or painting beautiful pictures that adorned their Mt. Washington home.

And he loved to laugh, even cracking up the paramedics while they were tending to him during a recent ambulance trip.

“Through all of his diverse ventures and life experiences, Tad stayed true to his core values: true and lasting love for family and friends, respect and kindness for all he encountered, and living life to its maximum each and every day of his 79 years,” his son, Thayer Potter Jr., wrote in his father's obituary.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Potter is survived by daughters Katharine and Kristin; brothers William, Thomas, George and Larry; and eight grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 6 to 9 p.m. today in Wm. Slater and Sons Inc. funeral home, Mt. Washington. A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. Tuesday in Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church with a reception following in the Fox Chapel Racquet Club.

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or

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