October 25, 1936 - January 31, 2021
Bradenton, Florida - Rodney Potter, the eldest of five sons, was born on October 25, 1936, in a home birth to Gladys Hilton Potter and Jodie Thomas Potter. He passed away peacefully in his sleep, befittingly on a Sunday, on the last day of January, 2021. As you will read, Rodney was a hero in every sense of the word. He was a legend, a friend, a firm leader, a devoted husband, caregiver to all, father, brother, (great) grandfather, full of strength, stories and tall tales (all of them true). He survived trains, bullets, knives, and too many sicknesses to tell. He had a fighting spirit and was tough as nails and yet the most loving and giving man you will ever meet. He was loved and respected by all and he, in turn, loved all.
Below is his story. Rodney Potter was the grandson of W. F. ("Handle Bars") Hilton, who at that time was the game warden of Manatee County. Throughout his childhood, Granddaddy Bill, as they called him, took Rodney with him on his outings in a 1929 Model A Ford to check the county for game offenders. This early exposure to the outdoors spawned the love that Rodney had for wildlife and the woods, later leading him and his wife to purchase 43 acres of land in the middle of then untouched Rye Wilderness and floating their historic family home by barge down the Little Manatee River. By the time Rodney was 14, he had four other brothers so needless to say responsibility as an adult came early for him. At 13, he worked planting grass for Burnett's dairy, which is where the Desoto Mall is today. During summer vacation, Rodney worked seven days a week from dawn to well past dark for 50 cents per hour. He worked for the Garrisons' Nursery building shade houses for ornamental plants. He also raised pigs for sale and gardened for the Manatee High School Agricultural Department. At 14, he worked in the Palmetto State Farmers Market moving produce. When he left work and headed home on his bicycle he would deliver the daily farm crop report to the radio station. When Rodney was 17, he went to Idaho to work for the US Forestry Service in a logging camp. In Rodney's last year of high school, he was planning to work at Tropicana; however the man who was procuring the job for him never showed up. Rodney called his father who told him to go see Horace Lewis, the owner of Lewis Lumber, and he would give him a job. Mr. Lewis started Rodney outside unloading box cars of lumber by hand and rail road sand cars with a shovel. He worked his way through all the different jobs until he reached the top spot as manager. He eventually became part owner and General Manager of Lewis Lumber in the late 60's until they sold to Wickes Lumber.
Through the years of different ownership, Wickes, Leeds, Hope Lumber, Contractor Yard, Pro-Build and as Builders First Source today, he was the General Manager of the Bradenton store. For Leeds and Hope he also was a Regional Manager, overseeing other locations on the West Coast of Florida. Rodney so loved what he did that he worked at this same lumber company faithfully through all its changes for 66 years until the day the Lord Jesus decided he didn't need to fight anymore, and he took him home. Rodney is known throughout the United States and Canada in the lumber industry and is highly respected by all that were fortunate enough to know him. In light of this, many times he was offered corporate positions and political offices but he continually turned them down in order to stay close to his family and many friends. On business trips people would hunt him down just to meet him because they had heard about him or they had spoken to him for years on the phone and were eager to meet him in person. They looked at him with awe but he was so humble and treated each of them as if they were his long lost family - never turning away from anyone. He always had something good or better to say about those who sought him out, making them feel that they were the ones to be spoken so highly of and not himself. "Rodney never remembered what he did for others and he never forgot what someone did for him." Rodney's ethics were learned as a young boy and have been his way of life. Rodney has dedicated his life to helping others with their needs. He started that when he helped with the money he earned as a young boy to help support his family, never regretting anything he was asked to do for his family, just always giving freely. Rodney took care of his younger brothers as if he were their father. He was a 'big boy' growing up and began his role as protector for his brothers and later for his girls gladly and yet he was and still is known as a gentle giant. Rodney's Uncle Thad, the former preacher of Manatee Baptist Church, once said to him: "Rodney you can reach more people from your position and job there at the lumber company than I can ever reach from the pulpit" and this has been true because he has counseled and prayed with many, gotten jobs for the unemployed, helped the sick with financial assistance and chaired on countless boards for local charities like Guardian Angels who built family based homes for orphans. Uncle Thad would sometimes call Rodney and ask him to go do something for someone Thad knew but Rodney did not and of course Rodney would go do it with joy and a giving heart. Through his work he has also helped many contractors, their sons and grandsons in this community get their businesses started telling them "If you cannot do it with honesty and integrity then don't do it"!!! Rodney did quietly for those who needed it and not to bring attention or glory to himself and because of this, it is hard to list all of his good deeds. He helped many Churches of every denomination who could not afford to build. He helped uncountable charitable organizations. He helped organize the Rye Wilderness Park off Rye road which is now part of the Sheriff's Youth Ranch. He was appointed by Gov. Bush to be on the board over The Gamble Mansion. He was on the board of the Manatee Historical Society and helped procure material to rebuild/restore all the buildings at the historical park. In thanks, The Historical Society built "The Potter Barn", styled in the early period of Manatee County to honor him.
As a matter of fact, if you knew Rodney, it's easy to bet that he has helped you at one time or another to accomplish something wonderful. In one of the most important honors of his life, he had the pleasure of being named 'Manatee County 2010 Citizen of the Year', a title bestowed by the community which he so loved to serve. In 2011 he was further honored by receiving the Manatee County High School Outstanding Alumnus Award, a position which he was very proud to hold. As you can see, Rodney not only always worked hard, working with all of his heart no matter whom he worked with or for whom he worked but he also was 100% invested in his personal relationships be you daughter, son, wife, grandchild, lifelong friend or stranger. Where ever Rodney went, excellence, joy and love followed. At the young age of 22, he met his future bride. Their mutual friends had introduced them and once they started dating, that was it! ... because they didn't want to be apart, they married 3 short months later.
Rodney is survived by his wife of 61 years, Minnie Adele Potter. Together, they were loving parents to two daughters; Elizabeth and Rebecca (John); one son, Eric (Amy Lynn); one son-of-the-heart, Doug; six grandchildren; Candance (Mickel), Thomas, John (Brittany), Madison (Cecelia), Thad and Seth; three step-granddaughters; Lizette, Jocelyn and Mariah; grandson-of-the-heart, Joshua and one great-granddaughter, Paisley. He was the most loving, kind, giving and interesting father, husband and brother that anyone could ever imagine. Rodney is also survived by his brother, David (Lisa), Joe Bill (Cherry) and his sister-in-law and wife to Tommy (Margaret).
He left behind deep within each of his beloved a legacy of honor, truth, love, kindness, steadfastness, devotion and a fighting spirit that cannot be broken even in the face of the profound sadness that comes from losing him. Though he is gone from this world, the beauty that he left behind and the many lessons he taught will never fade. "I want to help paint a picture of the person that Rodney was. There are no fancy buildings he has built to stand for ever and there is no hospital wing named after him because he gave millions of dollars. He has built a business that stands tall throughout the whole Untied States by a man who does his work for the Lord and stands proud because he has done it with "honor and integrity". First Corinthians 13 sums up how we should be, "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; abide in faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love". Rodney lived his life on these biblical teachings; if you knew him you know that. He is my brother for life. We have been in the same town together all of our lives. I have worked with him from the time I was 16 until now over 54 years. I have seen how he lived his life. Rodney knew from where his rewards would come." - Joe Bill Potter.
Services will be held as follows: *Social distancing and masks will be required in respect for the elderly* Visitation will be 4:00-7:00PM, Friday February 5, at Brown & Sons Funeral Homes & Crematory 43RD Street Chapel, 604 43rd Street West, Bradenton, FL 34209 Services will be 1:00PM, Saturday February 6, at First Baptist Bradenton, 1306 Manatee Ave W, Bradenton, FL 34205. The family would like to express our deep gratitude and high regard for Dr. Raul Correa, Rodney's primary care physician who has taken care of Rodney for almost 43 years and for his staff as well; for Dr. Thomas Degroat, Rodney's cardiologist; for Dr. Raul Castro, Rodney's Oncologist; for Dr. Joe Walsh who took care of Rodney in the hospital; for all of the staff at the cardiac step-down unit at Manatee Memorial and especially Priscilla who was with Rodney the night that Jesus called him home and who sat with him afterward holding his hand while the family was on their way to spend their last moments with him.
Rodney is predeceased by and now reunited with his mother and father, Gladys and Jodie, his infant son, Andrew, his brothers; Freddy and Tommy, his nephew, Jason; his son-in-law, Tom and his infant granddaughter, Ginger.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to First Baptist Church of Bradenton. Condolences may be made to www.brownandsonsfuneral.com
Published by Bradenton Herald on Feb. 3, 2021.