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Posted by Cathy Gowdy on Monday, February 06, 2006 at 04:59:36 :

Marin IJ
Thursday, Sept. 12, 2002


Giant of a pastor dies of cancer
By Beth Ashley

Norman Pott, retired pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and a national figure in the fight for acceptance of gays in the church hierarchy, died Sept. 1 at his San Rafael home after a two-year fight against bone marrow cancer. He was 70.

The 6-foot-8-inch Mr. Pott dedicated his ministry to issues of justice, inclusiveness and equality, according to Enid, his wife of 48 years.

"He was the reason I became a minister," said Doug Hunecke, pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon, who first met Mr. Pott while a student at the University of California. "He embodied the highest integrity. He was smart and fun and good - just the best. I always called him 'The Giant,' and I didn't mean his height. I meant his soul. This is a real loss."

During his pastorate at the San Rafael church, Mr. Pott ran for moderator, the top job in the Presbyterian Church USA, on a platform calling for ordination of lesbians and gays, an issue hotly debated in the church since 1978 when the General Assembly banned it.

Mr. Pott lost that election, but helped bring the issue to national attention.

"He was always willing to speak up, whether from the lectern or in the community," said his daughter, Emily. "It was so important to him that he was willing to put his personal reputation aside."

"He helped empower many people."

"He showed people that one voice can be important," said his daughter, Carol.

In 1997, he participated in the writing of a book, "Called Out With," a compilation of stories from people committed to sexual justice. In the book, Mr. Pott describes a gay minister-friend who left the church because of the outcry against him, galvanizing Mr. Pott's interest in the issue.

Mr. Pott served in San Rafael from 1986 to 1997, when he "retired," but continued to be active helping the Korean Presbyterian Church in San Rafael and the First Presbyterian Church in St. Helena, where he was interim pastor.

After his cancer was diagnosed, he left St. Helena to undergo a stem cell transplant, which failed to halt the illness. He continued weekly blood transfusions for a time. But after the arrival this year of his daughter and first grandson, 6-month-old Miles, from England, he declined further treatment and died under hospice care at home.

"His courage and equanimity in the last days of his illness were just awesome," said his friend and family doctor, Chuck Fischer of San Rafael. "I'd never seen anything quite like it before."

Mr. Pott was the third of five sons in a deeply religious family from Summit, N.J. He attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he and Enid were married on graduation day in 1954. Mr. Pott was an All-American basketball player at Wheaton, and was drafted into the National Basketball Association, but declined to play, preferring to realize his childhood dream of becoming a minister.

He enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he received a master's degree in divinity in 1957. He received a doctorate in philosophy in 1960 at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

His first job was as a minister for students at the First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, where he worked for the rights of migrant farm workers, promoted the work of Martin Luther King Jr., registered black voters in Hattiesburg, Miss. in the summer of 1963, and counseled University of California students during the chaotic rise of the campus Free Speech Movement.

In an Independent Journal interview six years ago, Mr. Pott recalled the day he left Berkeley: "Every law enforcement vehicle in Alameda County had surrounded the campus, and a graduate student named Mario Savio was speaking in the plaza."

In 1964, he moved to a church in Eugene, Ore., where he again came in contact with student ferment and protests against the Vietnam War. He counseled many young men who sought to become conscientious objectors. As a result, his wife said, a bomb was thrown at his church.

In 1975, Mr. Pott moved to Davis, where he worked with Cesar Chavez for the rights of farm workers and spoke out for women's rights and gender equality.

In San Rafael, he focused on breaking down the barriers that forbade gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from holding office within the Presbyterian Church.

He led the debate on whether the Marin church would become a More Light church, a movement among Presbyterian churches to defy the ban and open themselves to gay pastorates. The vote was 21-1 in favor of welcoming gays, although the church never adopted the name of More Light, choosing not to be confrontational.

"Norm was a person with a big heart and a big vision, not only for the church but for the world," said the Rev. Bob Conover, Mr. Pott's successor at the San Rafael church. "He was deeply concerned for the well being and the rights of all humanity, and his concern was expressed beyond any bounds of sectarianism."

Binney Fischer said Mr. Pott "could take an issue that was confrontational and make it non-confrontational. He was a giant of a man who epitomized what it means to lead a Christian life."

Three years ago, Mr. Pott united Fischer's son and his partner "in what we were calling a commitment ceremony but what Norm called a marriage. He said 'I am sure God blesses this relationship,'" Binney Fischer said.

In addition to his several pastorates, Mr. Pott served as an adjunct faculty member at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He was on the board of trustees of Princeton Theological Seminary and of Lewis and Clark College in Oregon. He also was a member of the Marin Interfaith Council, the city of San Rafael Special Task Force on Homeless Persons and the Rotary Club.

As a family man, Enid Pott said, "Norm always allowed us to be ourselves, and gave us all a lot of freedom within our relationship with him." The family traveled all over the world - Emily was married in the Jordanian desert in Wadi Rum and in a second ceremony in Jerusalem - and, as a result, all four Pott children are international travelers. Her marriage, Enid said, "was a wonderful experience from beginning to end."

Mr. Pott is survived by his wife and the children, Emily of Oxford, England, Carol of Inverness, Stephen of San Rafael and Aaron of St. Helena; by four brothers, Gordon, Roger, Douglas and Ronald Pott, and by three grandchildren, Claire, Genevieve and Miles.

Three memorial services are planned: one tomorrow in Eugene (at the request of former parishioners), one at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 22 at the First Presbyterian Church in St. Helena and one in Marin. The Marin service will be at 7:30 p.m Sept. 19 at First Presbyterian Church in San Rafael. A reception will follow.

"He will be remembered by this congregation for two things," the Rev. Conover said. "One, his personal graciousness, and, secondly, his deep passion for human justice."



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