Bernard Potts, a retired attorney and philanthropist who served as mentor to a young Bea Gaddy before she became one of Baltimore's best-known humanitarians, died of complications from pneumonia Nov. 16 at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson. The longtime Pikesville resident was 92.
Born in Baltimore, Mr. Potts spent part of his childhood in an orphanage because his parents were too sick and poor to raise him, said a son, Phillip L. Potts. His maternal grandmother eventually took custody of the boy and raised him in an apartment on North Broadway in East Baltimore. Mr. Potts briefly attended City College before being expelled, his son said.
"They claimed he wasn't smart enough to be in school, which was a gross mistake on their part," Phillip Potts said.
Mr. Potts became a self-taught accountant and worked for small businesses before entering the Navy in the early 1940s. He worked in naval intelligence during World War II, serving in North Africa, Italy and South America, his son said. He was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1946.
Mr. Potts returned to Baltimore, and in 1950, he earned a law degree from a school that was later absorbed by the University of Baltimore. He was also admitted to the Maryland bar that year.
Mr. Potts started a firm specializing in tax law, but he was most passionate about helping the poor, Phillip Potts said. He helped start a number of charitable organizations in the 1950s and frequently gave money to people in need.
By the mid-1960s, Mr. Potts had met Ms. Gaddy, then a poor, single mother. He allowed her to spend nights in the lobby of his building, his family said.
Several years before her death of complications from breast cancer in 2001, Ms. Gaddy wrote in an autobiographical profile that she met Mr. Potts while working as a school crossing guard. "He became my mentor and encouraged me to go to college," wrote Ms. Gaddy, who started a center for the needy in East Baltimore and later served on the Baltimore City Council.
"The jewel in my father's crown was not the money that he made, it was how many people could he help," Phillip Potts said.
Mr. Potts was predeceased by his wife, the former Frieda Hochman.
A service for Mr. Potts was held Monday.
Survivors include two other sons, Neal Potts of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Bryan Potts of the Guilford section of Baltimore; a daughter, Andrea Potts of Sonoma, Calif.; four grandsons; and two step-grandsons.