Theodore J. “Ted” Potthast Jr., a retired lawyer who had been a partner in the Towson law firm of Potthast & Schmidt and a lifetime director and former president of the German Society of Maryland, died of heart failure Aug. 18 at his home in Riderwood’s Village Green neighborhood. He was 91.
“Ted and I have had a 50-year relationship,” said Judge John F. Fader II, who retired from the Circuit Court in 2003, after having served for 21 years.
“Ted was an excellent estate, trusts and condemnation lawyer, as well as in other areas of the law, and I was fortunate to have been his partner,” Judge Fader said. “There was no one more respected in the legal community and German Society than Ted, and hundreds and hundreds of people are going to miss him, including me.”
Sister Virginia “Ginny” Muller, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, knew Mr. Potthast for 12 years. She was also a former provincial treasurer at Villa Assumpta, her order’s motherhouse in the Woodbrook neighborhood of Baltimore County.
“He was such a kind, generous and patient man. There was nothing too much for him to take on for us,” she said. “Ted will always be remembered as one of the SSND’s great benefactors, and we will always remember and continually pray for him.”
Lawrence E. Schmidt was a former law partner.
“Ted was a Renaissance man and a really good, solid guy,” Mr. Schmidt said. “He was the consummate gentleman lawyer who was very respectful and always a steady hand and calming presence.”
Theodore Joseph Potthast Jr. was the son of Theodore J. Potthast Sr., a cabinetmaker who became president of the venerable Baltimore furniture maker Potthast Brothers Inc., founded in 1892 by his father and two uncles, and Marie Corcoran Potthast, an expert researcher and preserver of Potthast-related company records. Mr. Potthast Jr. was born in Baltimore and raised on Wilkens Avenue.
A graduate of St. Bernadine Parochial School, Mr. Potthast entered Loyola Blakefield, where he served as sports editor of the high school newspaper, The Loyolan; captained the debate team; and was president of Sodality of the Blessed Mother.
“Teddy and I were in the Class of ‘49 at Loyola. I was from Govans, and he was from Wilkens Avenue,” recalled former Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. “He was very likable, smart and did well with his classes. He was a very even-keeled fellow.”
Mr. Curran and Mr. Potthast and other members of their class met every third Thursday of the month for a class luncheon.
“Our ranks are slowly getting smaller and smaller, but we still get together once a month to remember what was a long time ago,” Mr. Curran said. “We still have great memories.”
As a young man, Mr. Potthast worked in the family business alongside his father and uncles doing drafting and drawing and would accompany his father on East Coast deliveries to prominent customers, family members said.
After graduating from Loyola High School, he entered the Jesuit seminary in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, where he spent four years in religious study. As he continued his Jesuit studies, he left Wernersville to attend St. Louis University, where he majored in history and philosophy in a special branch of the university that was attended only by Jesuit seminarians.
“It was here he continued his Latin studies, of which he could write, speak and read fluently until his death,” said a daughter, Marialena “Mia” Walsh of Cromwell Valley.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1954, he began teaching at Gonzaga High School in Washington, where he taught Latin, English, history and religion. One of his prized students was Pat Buchanan, who later became President Richard M. Nixon’s speech writer and is currently a political commentator.
“Not long ago, Pat approached Ted at a party to thank him for being so tough on him as a student,” Ms. Walsh said. “It made him the prominent writer he is today and provided him the ability to debate subjects with fervor and strength.”
After leaving teaching in 1957, Mr. Potthast worked full-time for the U.S. Department of Justice in order to earn tuition while simultaneously attending Georgetown University School of Law, where he earned his degree in 1962.
“His DOJ office was at the bottom of Capitol Hill, and he would often go to the Senate chamber during breaks and sit in the balcony looking down on the senators,” his daughter said. “He often saw John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson walking the floor trying to collar other senators to get votes for their own special projects.”
When Robert F. Kennedy was appointed attorney general and made prosecuting the mafia a priority, Mr. Potthast worked for six months in his “war room,” where he assisted in tracing relationships between various mafia bosses.
Admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1964, Mr. Potthast joined the Baltimore law firm of O’Conor and McManus, where he worked with former Maryland governor and U.S. Sen. Herbert R. O’Conor Jr. While with the firm, he honed his skills in drafting wills and trusts and handling probate matters.
During this time, he served as a mentor to Herbert R. O’Conor III, the governor’s son, in the matter of how to handle condemnation cases at a time when the city was extending its control over Inner Harbor properties.
After a brief stint in private practice, he joined John F. Fader II, who established Potthast and Fader, a Towson law firm, and when Judge Fader was appointed to the District Court in 1977, Mr. Schmidt became his partner.
“Ted was very deliberate, and I never saw him get upset or lose his temper, no matter how difficult the case or an opposing attorney was,” Mr. Schmidt said.
When Mr. Schmidt was named zoning commissioner for Baltimore County in 1991, they remained law partners with the understanding that Mr. Potthast would not accept any zoning cases as long as Mr. Schmidt remained commissioner, his daughter said.
“I was zoning commissioner for 13 years, and we eventually parted, and we parted amicably,” Mr. Schmidt said.
As one of Baltimore’s top condemnation and zoning lawyers, major clients included the School Sisters of Notre Dame and what is now the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, which he represented for two decades.
In the 1980s, Mr. Potthast helped facilitate the sale of the SSND’s Villa Maria-Notch Cliff motherhouse in Glen Arm, which was necessary because the order’s numbers had dwindled. The former motherhouse has since become the Glen Meadows Retirement Community.
One of Mr. Potthast’s more interesting legal challenges on behalf of the SSND occurred in 2010 when he assisted in the sale of an extremely rare Honus Wagner baseball card known as the T206 that dated to 1909 and ensuring that “no estate taxes or excess moneys would be sacrificed,” his daughter said.
Wagner played shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1900 to 1917, and the rare card had been left to the order by the brother of a nun. It was eventually sold for a “whopping $262,900 in an online auction” to Doug Walton of Knoxville, Tennessee, reported The Baltimore Sun at the time.
After a 19.5% buyer’s premium, the SSND Atlantic-Midwest Conference received a check for $220,000, which was to be used to assist in the work of the order’s 3,500 nuns across the world.
“It certainly was an incredible time, and I think Ted really enjoyed it,” said Sister Virginia, who is now with her order in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The Morning Sun
Mr. Potthast retired in 2019.
An important aspect of his life was the celebration of his German heritage — which he could trace to the 1400s — by his active membership in the German Society of Maryland, for which he had been a lifetime director, a former president and editor and writer of its newsletter. He was also the founder, overseer and financial supporter of GermanAmericanRadio.com and a member of the Baltimore Kickers Club.
He enjoyed fishing, skiing, genealogy and writing and editing a family newsletter, which totaled 1,200 editions during his lifetime.
A gifted poker player, he was a member of three such groups, including an elite poker group he dubbed The Clerical Game of Chance, whose membership consisted of priests and bishops from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He was also a member of another poker group that was drawn from the legal community and featured judges and lawyers.
His wife of 61 years, the former Catherine Fava, an accountant and bookkeeper in her husband’s law firm, died in 2019.
Mr. Potthast was a longtime communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Churchat 200 Ware Ave. in Towson, where a Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by sons Mark I. Potthast of Riderwood and John A. “Jack” Potthast of Gambrills; another daughter, Catherine A. “Cappy” Potthast of Catonsville; and seven grandchildren.