Evelyn Goodwin Potter, a trailblazer for women in the public relations industry who created the public affairs department at Brooklyn’s State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in 1959 and served as its director for nearly 20 years, died April 13 at age 93.
Potter went to work as an associate for community relations at the Crown Heights hospital in 1954, at a time when it was expanding and emerging into one of the largest teaching, research, and patient care institutions in the United States. She spotted the trend, and convinced Downstate administrators that the facility needed a public affairs department. They agreed, and in 1959 named her the new department’s director.
During her tenure, Potter created an award-winning quarterly newsletter, “The Downstate Reporter,” and wrote a book, “Medical Education in Brooklyn: The First Hundred Years,” published by Downstate in 1960 to mark its centennial. She worked closely with faculty to publicize their research and achievements, including Dr. Samuel Kountz, the first African-American transplant surgeon, Dr. Eli Friedman, inventor of the portable dialysis machine, and plans by Dr. Raymond Damadian to develop a device to scan the human body to detect cancer now known as magnetic resonance imaging — the MRI. In 1975, Potter arranged the first live telecast, on NBC’s “Today” show, of a kidney transplant, performed by Dr. Kountz.
Dr. Pascal Imperato, dean of the School of Public Health at Downstate, called Potter “the best public relations professional he ever met.” And when she left in 1975 to take a position as vice president of university relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, then-Downstate president Dr. Calvin Plimpton said, “For her, a cold fact is still stark but she can dress it with a charm that gives it life and influence.”
Potter’s daughter, Jill, says her mother was “excited about being on the cutting edge of publicizing important medical work and research at the time,” and wasn’t worried about doing it during an era when most women with families didn’t pursue careers.
And she was particularly fond of Brooklyn, where she and her husband Neil raised Jill and her brother Eugene in an 11-room, turn-of-the-century house on a tree-lined street in Midwood.
“I enjoy it,” Potter said of the borough in one of numerous interviews she gave during her illustrious career. “It’s a shopper’s paradise; it’s near the beaches; and it has some really lovely old homes and streets that compare favorably with those I’ve seen anywhere. At this point in my life, I prefer living in Brooklyn.”
After a short stint at Clark University, Potter returned to New York to work at the Cantor Concern, an executive search firm serving the public relations industry. Her husband died in 1979. She retired in 1986 and moved from her beloved 11-room Midwood manse to Bronxville in Westchester County, where she died of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease.