James E. Potorti

James E. Potorti
World Trade Center

'Je T'Aime, Jim'

Paris, 1988. Nikki Stern is napping and the new love in her life, James E. Potorti, a sweet soul with penetrating eyes, is painting. For days they have been exploring Paris, and discovering each other in its art galleries, cafes and, inevitably, the Eiffel Tower. Now, as she sleeps, he arranges fresh oranges and grapes in a bowl, and he paints his simple still life with a purpose made clear by the inscription on his canvas, "Paris à Nikki -- Je t'aime, Jim, 1988."

"That," Ms. Stern recalled with a warm laugh, "is when I knew I had him.

Cayuga Lake, N.Y., 2001. It is Labor Day weekend, and Mr. Potorti, 52, is kayaking side-by-side with Ms. Stern, his wife of 10 years. They bought kayaks this spring, took lessons together, and now, on a clear, cool day, they are exploring Cayuga Lake, and discovering each other. Near the middle of the lake they drift for a moment, basking in the intimacy of being so alone, and so together. Ms. Stern reaches for her husband's hand. He leans close to her. They kiss.

"The best day of my life," Ms. Stern said.

These words come through tears. Mr. Potorti, a vice president at Marsh & McLennan who worked on the 96th floor of 1 World Trade Center, has left behind a wife who loved the way they ignored birthdays, Christmas and Valentine's Day because they much preferred surprising each other with gifts throughout the year. What does she miss most? "I definitely miss his physical presence," she said, again with that warm laugh. "We were close that way."

Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 6, 2001.

James Potorti, 52, a nurturing soul and a supple mind

James Edward Potorti of Plainsboro is memorialized on the Internet by his wife, Nikki Stern, as a "sharp, intellectual, sexy, earthy, silly, sensitive, empathetic, handsome, giving, gentle, emotional and very, very funny" man.

It was in the company of friends that Mr. Potorti showed all sides of his personality. Nothing pleased him more than being around good people -- except working or playing outdoors, she said.

"He could make anything grow," Stern said. "I don't think Jim ever met a plant he could not nurture."

Mr. Potorti would have a flower garden every year, and roses were always the mainstay, she said.

"He thought it was fun to dig in the earth," said Stern, a former New York City actress.

Mr. Potorti also enjoyed woodwork. "He made our dining room table, and our bookcases," said Stern. "Our house is very comfortable, and is an eclectic mix of bought furniture and furniture that he made."

She offered those recollections following the Sept. 11 attack at the World Trade Center, where Mr. Potorti, 52, was an executive at Marsh & McLennan.

Stern traced her husband's love for nature and science to an interest that landed him a job as a geologist out of college. Having grown up near Ithaca, N.Y., and on Long Island, Mr. Potorti eventually moved on to a financial services career and settled with Stern in the Princeton area.

"He certainly suffered the same anxieties as most people, but he had an unusual ability to be content," Stern said. "He had an underlying serenity which drew a lot to him, and he comforted a lot of people.

"He appreciated the big picture, but celebrated every day the small things," she said.

Mr. Potorti and Stern both enjoyed biking and hiking on the trails along the Raritan River and Carnegie Lake. Last summer they spent time learning how to kayak on the Delaware River, and then kayaking off Long Beach Island.

"He was my harbor, and now I feel like a ship with nowhere to dock," said Stern. "What I need to do now is take the beautiful things he gave me and use them in my life." The Web site where Stern memorialized Mr. Potorti is http://hometown.aol.com/nikkistern/myhomepage/memorial-crisis.html

Mr. Potorti was born in Ithaca, and attended the State University of New York at Oswego.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by parents, Olga and Peter Potorti of Ithaca, and two brothers, Bill of Carson City, Nev., and David of Cary, N.C.

A private gathering will be held in lieu of a memorial service.

Profile by Jason Jett published in THE STAR-LEDGER.

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