Garth Potts, second from left, visited the LJCC in February 2022, and is pictured here with son Gabe Potts (center), and (left to right) Kirsten “Coach K” Thomas, Barbara Traweek and Ruth Nomberg. Photo courtesy LJCC Facebook.
Garth Potts, who led Birmingham’s Levite Jewish Community Center for 23 years as executive director, died on Dec. 25 in Las Vegas. He was 76.
Born in Newport News, Va., Potts and his family moved to Buffalo when he was a child, and he grew up as a “Center rat,” always at the local JCC, where he began working as a teen.
Potts began creating art at age four, often combining his love of sports with his drawing, such as making his own baseball cards. Since his father was a doctor, he considered becoming a medical illustrator, but one biology class assured him that would not be his path.
He earned a master’s in social work at SUNY Buffalo and a master’s of fine arts at the University of Oklahoma, thinking he would be a college art instructor or sports cartoonist. In a 2005 interview with this publication, he said that he “enjoyed life’s simple pleasures — eating, raising a family, paying a mortgage or two,” and pursued his other passion, Jewish communal service. He worked at JCCs in Buffalo, El Paso, Portland, Vancouver and Oklahoma City.
He took over the JCC in Birmingham in January 1991, just as the Gulf War was breaking out. At his introductory annual dinner, the proceedings were interrupted by a talk by President George Bush, which was streamed into the room. When Potts took the podium, he simply tore up his prepared remarks.
Potts arrived in Birmingham as the community was undertaking a major needs survey that led to a major renovation and expansion of the Montclair Road facility, following a community debate on whether the institution should move over the mountain. The expansion included a new outdoor pool, the expanded fitness center and the new building for the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School, which had also explored an off-campus site.
During his tenure, the JCC was also renamed in honor of longtime supporter Ted Levite.
He never lost sight of his art, though, creating several series at the LJCC, with several formal shows over the years and his work often displayed in the hallways.
In late 1991 he started a Judaica series, with many items and symbols from Birmingham’s synagogues. The Judaic still-lifes were done with a pointillism technique, small market dots blending together to make the image.
A series of Hebrew letter drawings with animals whose names started with those letters was commissioned for the preschool, and he also did a series of caricatures of over 50 Jewish celebrities.
Another series was the Ten Commandments of Health and Fitness, based on a list by the national JCC Association. He also illustrated the children’s book “Humongous Pushka in the Sky” by Danny Siegel.
Potts retired from the LJCC in January 2013, moving to Las Vegas, where he taught Drawing 101 at the College of Southern Nevada.