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Gregory H. Williams

Gregory Howard Williams was born on November 12, 1943 in Indiana. At the age of ten, Williams moved from Virginia to the Black housing projects of Muncie, Indiana, where he became aware of his father’s African American heritage for the first time. Despite a period of confusion about his identity, he drew on his father’s passion for education to give him strength during a challenging time in his life.

Williams graduated from Ball State University. He paid for school by working as a deputy sheriff often for more than forty hours a week. Williams then attended George Washington University, earning both his J.D. and Ph.D. degrees.

In 1993, Williams became the Dean of Law and Carter C. Kissell Professor of Law at The Ohio State University and managed to shift the school effectively, increasing both fund raising and national rankings. In 2001, just before Williams left Ohio State University, it became the recipient of the largest gift ever given to the university when Michael E. Moritz, a partner of the Baker and Hostettler firm, donated $30 million to help Ohio State College of Law become a top ten law school nationally.

In 1995, Williams published Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black¸ an autobiography. The Los Angeles Times selected it “Book of the Year,” and Williams was soon featured on television and radio, including Dateline NBC, Larry King Live, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Nightline and National Public Radio. The following year, the Gustavus Myers Center for Human Rights in North America selected Life on the Color Line as an Outstanding Book on the Subject of Human Rights.

In 1998, Williams was invited by President Bill Clinton to join Clinton’s “Call to Action” to promote law office diversity and pro bono work. The following year, Williams was chosen by the National Association of Public Interest Law as “Dean of the Year,” and he was awarded the National Bar Association’s A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. Award for Contributions to the Preservation of Human and Civil Rights. In 2001, Williams became The City College of New York’s eleventh president. Under Williams, the college increased its enrollment, and maintained its diversity even under more rigorous admission standards. He successfully held the College’s first capital campaign, raising more than $230 million. Williams serves as Chair of the Commission on Access, Diversity and Excellence (CADE) of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

Williams was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 16, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.176

Sex

Male

Interview Date

5/16/2007

Last Name

Williams

Maker Category
Middle Name

H.

Schools

Garfield Elementary School

University of Maryland

Ball State University

George Washington University Law School

Muncie Central High School

First Name

Gregory

Birth City, State, Country

Muncie

HM ID

WIL38

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Indiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Transformative Power Of Higher Education

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Ohio

Birth Date

11/12/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Cincinnati

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Barbecue Ribs

Short Description

Academic administrator and lawyer Gregory H. Williams (1943 - ) served as chair of the Commission on Access, Diversity and Excellence (CADE) of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. He was the president of New York City College, and the author of, "Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black."

Employment

Muncie Police Department

Public Schools of the District of Columbia

University of Iowa

City College of New York

The Ohio State University

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Gregory H. Williams' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Gregory H. Williams lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Gregory H. Williams recalls Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Gregory H. Williams describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Gregory H. Williams talks about the origin of his name

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Gregory H. Williams describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Gregory H. Williams describes his father's education

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Gregory H. Williams describes his father's time at Howard University

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Gregory H. Williams recalls his father's relationship with Alain LeRoy Locke

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Gregory H. Williams describes his father's experiences with the Ku Klux Klan

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Gregory H. Williams describes his father

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Gregory H. Williams describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Gregory H. Williams remembers the Open House Cafe in Gum Springs, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Gregory H. Williams describes his homes in Alexandria, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Gregory H. Williams describes the founding of the Open House Cafe

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Gregory H. Williams talks about passing for white as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Gregory H. Williams describes his early awareness of racial discrimination

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Gregory H. Williams recalls living with his maternal grandparents in Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Gregory H. Williams describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Gregory H. Williams describes his younger brother

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Gregory H. Williams recalls his father's entrepreneurship

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Gregory H. Williams remembers his parents' relationship

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Gregory H. Williams remembers meeting his African American family

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Gregory H. Williams describes his early interests

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Gregory H. Williams recalls holiday traditions

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Gregory H. Williams describes the neighborhood of Gum Springs in Alexandria, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Gregory H. Williams remembers when his mother left his father

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Gregory H. Williams recalls his family life after his mother's departure

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Gregory H. Williams talks about his father's breakdown

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Gregory H. Williams remembers learning about his African ancestry

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Gregory H. Williams remembers meeting his aunt, Bess Pharris

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Gregory H. Williams describes how he was received by his paternal family

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Gregory H. Williams describes the initial confusion about his racial identity in Muncie, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Gregory H. Williams recalls his acceptance into Muncie's African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Gregory H. Williams remembers moving in with his paternal grandmother

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Gregory H. Williams remembers his father's return to Muncie, Indiana

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Gregory H. Williams describes his grandmother's boyfriend

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Gregory H. Williams remembers being taken into the care of Dora Terry Smith

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Gregory H. Williams recalls his father's positive influence

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Gregory H. Williams describes the black community in Muncie, Indiana

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Gregory H. Williams remembers Garfield Elementary School in Muncie, Indiana

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Gregory H. Williams describes his interactions with white teachers

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Gregory H. Williams describes his relationship with his father

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Gregory H. Williams remembers the support of his foster mother

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Gregory H. Williams talks about his friend, Brian Settles

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Gregory H. Williams recalls his influences during high school

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Gregory H. Williams describes the pressure on him as a teenager

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Gregory H. Williams remembers Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Gregory H. Williams remembers working as a deputy sheriff

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Gregory H. Williams describes lessons from his time as a deputy sheriff

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Gregory H. Williams recalls experiencing discrimination as a deputy sheriff

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Gregory H. Williams recalls his graduation from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Gregory H. Williams recalls his first white girlfriend

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Gregory H. Williams remembers being contacted by his mother

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Gregory H. Williams recalls his reunion with his mother

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Gregory H. Williams recalls living with his mother

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Gregory H. Williams describes his siblings' lives in Annandale, Virginia

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Gregory H. Williams recalls hiding his racial identity from his stepfather

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Gregory H. Williams recalls rekindling his relationship with Sara Whitney Williams

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Gregory H. Williams recalls attending George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Gregory H. Williams describes his start in politics

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Gregory H. Williams remembers serving as a legislative assistant

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Gregory H. Williams recalls directing the GW-Washington Project

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Gregory H. Williams describes his role at the GW-Washington Project

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Gregory H. Williams recalls working at the University of Iowa in Iowa City

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Gregory H. Williams remembers increasing minority enrollment at the University of Iowa

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Gregory H. Williams recalls his publications at University of Iowa

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Gregory H. Williams describes his decision to write 'Life on The Color Line'

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Gregory H. Williams remembers writing 'Life on The Color Line'

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Gregory H. Williams recalls his professional goals

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Gregory H. Williams recalls being hired at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Gregory H. Williams remembers working at The Ohio State University

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Gregory H. Williams describes the culture of The Ohio State University

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Gregory H. Williams remembers the release of 'Life on The Color Line'

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Gregory H. Williams talks about his interest in pro-bono legal service

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Gregory H. Williams recalls Michael Moritz's gift to The Ohio State University

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Gregory H. Williams remembers Michael Moritz's death

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Gregory H. Williams recalls his desire to work at The City College of New York

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Gregory H. Williams recalls success stories from The City College of New York

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Gregory H. Williams describes his challenges at The City College of New York

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Gregory H. Williams talks about fundraising at The City College of New York

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Gregory H. Williams describes his hopes for The City College of New York

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Gregory H. Williams remembers adopting his twin sons

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Gregory H. Williams reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Gregory H. Williams talks about his loyalty to the African American community

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

7$10

DATitle
Gregory H. Williams remembers learning about his African ancestry
Gregory H. Williams remembers the support of his foster mother
Transcript
You're saying as you were dr- driving, that's when he [Williams' father, James Williams] told you.$$That's when he told us. We were on the bus, we were on the Greyhound bus--$$I--I, yeah, that's fine.$$--you know headed, headed back to Muncie [Indiana]. And see my brother [Mike Williams] and I, like I said, we were starving. We were literally starving. And actually I guess as you read my book ['Life on The Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black,' Gregory Howard Williams], you'll see there's a lot of allusions to food. In fact I've had some people say well after reading your book, I wanted to come over and cook for you. I wanted to bring groceries for this little starving kid. And you know I did think it had--you know it stunted my growth to a certain extent and my, my development. But, but so we were just, we were looking for some kind of relief from this just, just, just rapid falling into the abyss after my mother [Mary Williams] left and after we lost everything. So we thought we were going to go and live with my [maternal] white grandparents then because we knew that we're gonna eat there. And was probably gonna be stable. And so that was a real attractive thing for us. But it was about midway in the trip and I've tried to always figure out where that was. And, and the best I can figure it out, somewhere between Columbus, Ohio and Dayton, Ohio. And it was very ironic that, you know, basically fifty years later I became dean of The Ohio State law school [The Ohio State University College of Law; Michael E. Moritz College of Law] in Columbus [Ohio]. But when Dad told us the story and said look, he asked us if I remembered Miss Sallie [Sallie Higginbotham Williams] and I had met her, she'd been at the restaurant [Open House Cafe, Gum Springs, Virginia] and you know actually I remember I'd been introduced to her in Indiana because from time to time when we would go to Indiana, my mother would take me by this little diner in Indiana and tell me to go up and knock on the door and ask for Sallie. And so I would go up and knock on the door and ask for Sallie and she'd come out. And you know they never told me who she was. She would just come out and see us, and then we'd go off. I never paid any attention to that. And then she was in Virginia for a period of time, you know, working as, as the cook there. And he said, he said, "Well do you remember Miss Sallie?" And I said, "Yeah, I remember her." And some--I remember her and my dad said, "Well that's my grandmother. And--," I'm sorry, "that's my mother and that's your grandmother." And then this was 1954. He said, "In Virginia you're white boys, but in Indiana you're gonna be colored boys. And your life is gonna be different, but you're just gonna have to learn how to deal with it. That's because we don't have anything else to go to or anything else to help us." So I knew immediately because I had seen the segregated schools and I had seen the way that blacks were treated, but it never really resonated with me that one day that I would be treated the same way. But I immediately on the bus realized my life's gone be different.$$So here you're--so okay that's what I'm--you know psychologically what is happening because you know you're--how--all of a sudden you're one thing, and then you're another.$$Right.$$I mean that takes--it's one to hear it, it's another to experience it. But what you saw and experienced wasn't anything like--I mean you had seen it, but you hadn't been a part of it.$$I had seen it, but I'd not been a part of it, you know and it just didn't really register with me. You know I mean our--I guess maybe I said wow, that doesn't seem right, you know, and that's not nice. But it didn't mean anything to me because here I am, the son of Tony Williams, the owner of the Open House Cafe [Alexandria, Virginia], the captain of industry in the, in the northern Virginia area. I mean a man who could do anything in the world and convinced me that he had the ability to change whatever he wanted to change, or to do whatever he wanted to do. I mean I didn't, I didn't worry about that 'cause I had confidence in my dad and his abilities.$I remember you saying she wasn't--these are not the exact words, but she wasn't emotionally avail- I mean she, she was caring but to a point. She wasn't (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, she was caring. You know I mean and she cared about us, I have no doubt about that.$$She wasn't demonstrative.$$She wasn't really demonstrative. My mother was certainly have not been demonstrative as well. But I mean she cared about us. But she was, you know she didn't put her arm around my shoulder, but I mean if I needed help, she would, she would always be there. I never, I never had to worry about that. But she was not really demonstrative. I don't think she really realized what we were going through. I was very reluctant to share that with her because you know I didn't wanna tell her how much I missed my mother [Mary Williams]; how much I missed my sister [Rita Chiles] and brother [Rick Williams (ph.)]. Because she'd been there when everybody else had left us. And so why--I'm not gonna tell her that well you know I appreciate what you're doing, but I really miss my family. And so I didn't want to, I didn't wanna make her feel bad because of all the sacrifices that she had made for us. And she made enormous sacrifices for us. And what's really interesting about it is that the church [Christ Temple Apostolic Faith Church; Christ Temple Global Ministries, Muncie, Indiana], all these brothers and sisters in the church, they were not supportive of her. They would come and say, "Well what are you doing taking these two little white boys in? They've got the grandmother [Sallie Higginbotham Williams] and they've got a father. They're just drunks. They should be taking care of these kids themselves, and why you old widow woman, you know, not making any money. Why are you taking this on?" And I remember when ultimately she got married when I was about in the tenth grade [at Muncie Central High School, Muncie, Indiana]. And so I remember sitting in the other room, sitting in the kitchen, listening her, her fiance talk to her. And he, he--his wife had died, actually it was her best friend's husband and he--the woman had died, Nettie [ph.] had died. And so A.D. Smith [ph.] was there and said, "Well I don't understand why you're taking care of these boys." Again, you know, they got somebody to take care of 'em. And I remember her saying, I remember hearing this. She said, "Look A.D., those boys were here when you got here, and they gone be here when you're gone. And if you can't handle that, then there's no reason for us to get married." Now what was interesting about that is she was about ready to retire. She had no income. I mean she was gonna get maybe a little social security check. But by being married to A.D., and that was his--that's the thing he had to offer. Is if she was his wife, she would get his social security the rest of her life after A.D. died. And so she was willing to give that up if it came down to us or that social security check, or then, or the retirement check that she was gonna be able to get. I thought whoa, this is the woman who believes in me. And actually as ironically, I remember coming home one day after I was playing basketball. And I saw all the church elders in front, and I saw the morticians, kind of the ambulance or what do you call, the hearse. I saw the hearse in front of the house. And I said my God, I hope Miss Dora [Dora Terry Smith] has not died. And so I walk in there and you can't believe the relief when I saw her setting up and A.D. had died. You know I said thank you, Jesus because it was, it would have been very hard for us. 'Cause that meant we would go back to the alley. 'Cause 601 1/2 Railroad Street was really right on the all-. I said we go back to the alley, who knows what would happen to us. But so she was right, we were there when A.D. got there and we were there when he left.

James G. Potter

Corporate attorney James G. Potter was born August 1, 1957 in Muncie, Indiana. Orphaned with three brothers and a sister when his parents passed away, Potter was raised in Richmond, Indiana by librarian Maxine Embry. He attended Vaile Elementary School, Hibbard Junior High School and graduated from Richmond High School in 1975 as the top male student. Majoring in philosophy and behavioral science, Potter worked as a dialysis technician and graduated from the University of Chicago in 1978. In 1982, Potter graduated from Harvard Law School.

Potter worked for the firm of Keck, Mahin and Cate of Chicago in the corporate and securities area. His clients included Morgan, Lewis and Bockius of Philadelphia. From 1989 to 1997, Potter served as chief legal officer of Prudential Direct, a business unit of Prudential Insurance that included Prudential Bank and Trust Company. In this capacity, he provided direct support in the areas of banking, corporate, finance and securities law, and managed the law departments of the Prudential subsidiaries that make up the business unit. Potter served as executive vice president, general counsel and secretary of Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company, which comprises the fifth largest share of the variable life insurance market in the United States. At Provident, Potter managed the law, compliance, and corporate secretary departments. Joining Del Monte Foods Company in 2001, Potter was appointed general counsel and secretary for the food and pet products giant. He is now the company’s senior vice president and corporation counsel.

Concerned about diversity in the workplace, in 1999, Potter joined the legal counsels of 500 major U.S. corporations in signing a document entitled, “Diversity in the Workplace, A Call to Action”. He is a member of the American Bar Association, the Minority Corporation Counsels and the Coalition to Promote Minority Health. He is also chairman of the steering committee of the California Minority Counsel Program.

Potter, the father of a son, Jameson, and daughter, Lauren, lives and works in San Francisco, California.

Accession Number

A2005.216

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/17/2005

Last Name

Potter

Maker Category
Middle Name

G.

Occupation
Schools

Richmond High School

Vaile Elementary School

Hibbard Junior High School

University of Chicago

Harvard Law School

First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

Muncie

HM ID

POT01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Indiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Los Cabos, Mexico

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

8/1/1957

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Bay Area/San Francisco

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Corn (Caramel)

Short Description

Corporate lawyer James G. Potter (1957 - ) served as chief legal officer of Prudential Direct, a business unit of Prudential Insurance that included Prudential Bank and Trust Company. Potter also served as executive vice president, general counsel and secretary of Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company.

Employment

Morgan, Lewis and Bockius LLP

Keck, Mahin and Cate

Prudential Direct

Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company

Del Monte Foods

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of James G. Potter's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - James G. Potter lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - James G. Potter describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - James G. Potter describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - James G. Potter describes his parents' relationship

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - James G. Potter talks about being adopted

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - James G. Potter describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - James G. Potter describes growing up in Richmond, Indiana

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - James G. Potter describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - James G. Potter reflects on his greatest childhood influences

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - James G. Potter describes the Glen Miller Park Zoo in Richmond, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - James G. Potter describes the historic homes of Richmond, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - James G. Potter describes his mother's famous relatives

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - James G. Potter describes Vaile Elementary School in Richmond, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - James G. Potter recalls his favorite school subjects

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - James G. Potter remembers the small black population in Richmond, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - James G. Potter remembers an incident at Vaile Elementary School, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - James G. Potter remembers an incident at Vaile Elementary School, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - James G. Potter describes his demeanor at Richmond Senior High School

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - James G. Potter recalls deciding to attend the University of Chicago

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - James G. Potter reflects upon the influence of church

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - James G. Potter describes the campus culture at the University of Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - James G. Potter describes the students at the University of Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - James G. Potter describes the social and geographic boundaries of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - James G. Potter describes his academics at the University of Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - James G. Potter remembers African American professors at the University of Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - James G. Potter describes his social life at the University of Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - James G. Potter remembers deciding to be a lawyer

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - James G. Potter remembers working as a dialysis technician

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - James G. Potter remembers his time at Harvard Law School

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - James G. Potter describes the teaching style at Harvard Law School

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - James G. Potter reflects upon the negative aspects of law school

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - James G. Potter reflects upon how Harvard Law School changed his world view

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - James G. Potter remembers being taught by HistoryMaker Derrick A. Bell, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - James G. Potter recalls black student organizations at Harvard Law School

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - James G. Potter describes the time constraints of law school

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - James G. Potter explains why his skipped his Harvard Law School graduation

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - James G. Potter remembers working on Harold Washington's mayoral campaign

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - James G. Potter remembers his experience at Keck, Mahin and Cate in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - James G. Potter describes his relationship with his ex-wife

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - James G. Potter explains how to succeed at a law firm

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - James G. Potter tells humorous stories from his time in corporate law

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - James G. Potter describes practicing corporate law

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - James G. Potter explains how corporations slip into bad practices

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - James G. Potter describes the qualities that make him a good lawyer

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - James G. Potter describes his ethics

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - James G. Potter reflects upon corruption in corporate law

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - James G. Potter reflects upon changes in the law profession

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - James G. Potter explains why he left Morgan, Lewis and Bockius

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - James G. Potter remembers joining The Prudential Insurance Company of America

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - James G. Potter compares law firms to corporations

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - James G. Potter remembers proving himself at The Prudential Insurance Company of America

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - James G. Potter reflects upon succeeding with integrity

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - James G. Potter remembers leaving The Prudential Insurance Company of America

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - James G. Potter describes his experience at Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - James G. Potter describes the diversity at Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - James G. Potter explains why he joined Del Monte Corporation

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - James G. Potter remembers working at Del Monte Corporation

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - James G. Potter describes some of the products Del Monte Foods produces

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - James G. Potter describes his efforts to increase diversity at law firms

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - James G. Potter describes his work with the Coalition to Promote Minority Health

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - James G. Potter describes his concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - James G. Potter talks about his future plans

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - James G. Potter reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - James G. Potter describes his family

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - James G. Potter speaks about the reunion of African American Harvard Law School graduates

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - James G. Potter describes untold stories of struggle

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - James G. Potter describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

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DATitle
James G. Potter remembers deciding to be a lawyer
James G. Potter remembers joining The Prudential Insurance Company of America
Transcript
Anything sig- else about University of Chicago [Chicago, Illinois] you wanna talk about before we move you to law school [Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts]? Or how did you decide to go to law school?$$I went to law school, I decided actually to go to law school because I had a fundamental lack of knowledge of what lawyers do. You know my background you either worked at a factory which was you know a shift so you had the first shift or your second or the gra- graveyard shift. Or you were like my mother [Maxine Embry Potter] who worked as a librarian and she left the house every day at 8:30 and came home every day at quarter til six. So that was my only experience and I thought that that's how the world kind of worked. So when I was finishing up college, I wanted to do two things. I'll get to law school first and in the interim but I thought you know what I need to go out here and get trained to actually earn a living and but I don't wanna give up you know reading philosophy and studying philosophy so why not become a lawyer and when you get home a quarter of six every night, you can read philosophy. (Laughter) I'm serious. I had no idea. And so I applied to, I applied to law schools and I done you know very well at the University of Chicago and so was able to get into law school and that's really how I, how I went off to law school. Now interestingly enough I had always thought when I was a kid that I wanted to be a counselor and obviously that is the title of what I do now because I mean it just seems to be my personality. I you know I talk to people about their issues and kind of bring to bear you know a certain amount of judgment et cetera. So that piece of it has worked out.$How did you get involved with Prudential [The Prudential Insurance Company of America; Prudential Financial, Inc., Newark, New Jersey], what happened?$$At- at the end of the day, at Morgan Lewis [Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] I think I departed because I didn't see me forming connections with the, with the partners. The world--the law firm world is kind of sterile. Most law firms are fairly sterile and so I had just by by coincidence our next door neighbor was a executive search person and she stopped over one evening to say we were talking about a host of things but she asked me if I--what kind of law I did and I said well it's shaded now to banking and securities work. You know her ears kind of picked up at the banking reference and she said well she was working on a project for Prudential who wanted to get into the retail banking business and would I be interested in talking with them? And I, and I was, I was interested. I was interested because it would allow me to vary my practice. It would allow me to work with you know a single client and it also would allow me to get onto the, on to the management side. And so went up and talked with talked with Prudential, liked the idea. They were basically assembling a team of executives to go build their retail banking business. The commute was gonna be a bear. I was gonna be commuting from Philadelphia [Pennsylvania] to Newark, New Jersey on a daily basis. But with the, with the trains I decided to give it a shot and moved to--moved up to Prudential, stayed in the same housing situation, but moved to Prudential in 1989.$$Okay. How long a commute was it?$$Two hours. If you took the train it was two hours. I ended up driving at some point when we moved out to Doylestown [Pennsylvania] from Malcas Park [ph.] and it turned about an hour and a half, sixty-three miles one way. So fortunately though when you drove the--you could really go on, on the highway 78 [Interstate 78] quite fast, so you covered sixty-three miles. Sixty-three miles is a long drive and you know again one of the things that people do these days is commuting you know sort of outrageous times cuts into family time et cetera but it was a great opportunity to go and, and to build the business and to start shading away from the pure technical practice of law to the more business you know business driven practice of law.

David R. Duerson

Former NFL player-turned-business owner David Duerson was born in Muncie, Indiana, on November 28, 1960. After graduating from Northside High School in Muncie, Duerson began his promising football career at the University of Notre Dame. Duerson spent the summers from 1979 to 1981 working as a law clerk in Miami, Florida, and during the summer of 1982, he served as legislative aide to U.S. Senator Richard Lugar. Duerson graduated from Notre Dame with a B.S. degree in economics in 1983.

Following graduation, Duerson joined the Chicago Bears, where he played from 1983 to 1989, earning his first Super Bowl ring in Super Bowl XX. In 1990, he joined the New York Giants, and that year the Giants won Super Bowl XXV. He then went on to play for the Phoenix Cardinals from 1991 to 1993. After leaving the NFL, Duerson decided to go into business through franchise ownership. He attended McDonald's Corporation's Hamburger University and in 1994 bought three McDonald's restaurants in the suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky. Selling his franchises in 1995, Duerson became president and CEO of Fair Oaks Farms, one of the primary suppliers of sausage to McDonald's and a number of other companies with an international distribution arm to Japan, Singapore, Turkey and Kuwait. Under his leadership, sales grew from $38 million in 1998 to $63.4 million in 2001. That same year, he earned an executive M.B.A. from Harvard University's Owners and Presidents Management Program.

In 2002, Duerson started Duerson Foods, providing pork and turkey sausage products to corporations such as Burger King, White Castle and SYSCO.

Duerson has earned a number of honors over the years, including being named two-time All-American at Notre Dame and the 1987 NFL Man of the Year. He serves on the University of Notre Dame Board of Trustees and as chairman of the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame, Chicago Chapter. He is also active with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, serving as a national trustee. Duerson and his wife, Alicia, have four children.

Duerson passed away on February 17, 2011.

Duerson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 28, 2003.

Accession Number

A2003.210

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/28/2003

Last Name

Duerson

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Russell

Schools

Longfellow Elementary School

Oliver W. Storer Junior High School

Northside High School

University of Notre Dame

Harvard University

Northside Middle School

Storer Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

David

Birth City, State, Country

Muncie

HM ID

DUE01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Indiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

South Florida, Hawaii

Favorite Quote

Never Be Satisfied.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

11/28/1960

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Catfish, Raw Oysters

Death Date

2/17/2011

Short Description

Football player and corporate chief executive David R. Duerson (1960 - 2011 ) is a former NFL player who is now CEO and owner of Duerson foods, sausage maker to Burger King and others.

Employment

Chicago Bears

New York Giants

Phoenix Cardinals

McDonald's Corporation

Fair Oaks Farms, LLC

Duerson Foods, LLC

Favorite Color

Black, Red

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of David Duerson interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - David Duerson's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - David Duerson describes his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - David Duerson discusses his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - David Duerson relates his family's history after the U.S. Civil War

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - David Duerson describes his father's career successes

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - David Duerson remembers his hometown of Muncie, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - David Duerson discusses his mother's life

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - David Duerson recalls the Duerson family's interstate travels

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - David Duerson discusses recreation in Muncie, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - David Duerson describes his childhood shenanigans

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - David Duerson recalls his early sports achievements

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - David Duerson details his early educational experience

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - David Duerson remembers influential teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - David Duerson remembers his high school years

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - David Duerson describes his national and international travel during high school

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - David Duerson details his high school athletic accomplishments

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - David Duerson remembers his college years at the University of Notre Dame

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - David Duerson discusses his continued involvement with the University of Notre Dame

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - David Duerson recalls Notre Dame teammates and their athletic exploits

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - David Duerson explains why he chose football over baseball

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - David Duerson discusses some unexpected setbacks in his professional football career

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - David Duerson remembers 'Papa Bear' George Halas and Bears teammates

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - David Duerson recalls his clashes with Bears defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - David Duerson details how he learned to handle Buddy Ryan's racism

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - David Duerson reveals the inner workings of the Chicago Bears coaching staff

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - David Duerson describes his teammate, Bears quarterback Jim McMahon

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - David Duerson describes Buddy Ryan's coaching skills

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - David Duerson remembers the end of his career with the Chicago Bears

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - David Duerson discusses his career after the Chicago Bears

DASession

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David Duerson remembers 'Papa Bear' George Halas and Bears teammates
David Duerson describes Buddy Ryan's coaching skills
Transcript
Let's talk about the [Chicago] Bears [National Football League team] and when you got to the Bears. This is, what, what did you know about [coach] Mike Ditka and the Chicago Bears. I think George Halas [owner of Chicago Bears] was still alive, wasn't he? 'Papa Bear' was still alive.$$(Simultaneously) George, 'Papa Bear', in fact, he was alive. He passed away that year, my rookie season. Chicago [Illinois] was a short sprint from South Bend. So the four years I was at [University of] Notre Dame [South Bend, Indiana], we'd come over on some Sundays and, and watch the Bears plays. And it was very easy to get tickets to Bear games back in those days because they were, were sorry. They were quite sorry. What I knew of Mike Ditka is that, is that he was a tough guy and that he had just drafted this, this small, middle linebacker, Mike Singletary, that nobody expected a whole lot from and that, you know, but it was a, it was a city that, on defensive side, always talked about its linebackers, but as far as I was concerned, it was a city of, of Gary Fencik and Doug Plank [Chicago Bears players]. And so--.$$Those are two hard-hittin' safeties.$$(Simultaneous) Two very, very hard-hitting' safeties, and, you know, with an incredible reputation. Growing up in Indiana, we got both the, the Bear games and the Cincinnati [Ohio] Bengals. Those were the two teams we saw. So my wife and I, as we were driving across the [Chicago] Skyway coming into Chicago, you know, I'm reporting to the city, and we're looking at the skyline, and I said, "Baby, you see that? Some day we're gonna own this like, like Gary Fencik and Doug Plank." And so I show up at training--at mini-camp. And my very first day, you know, Ditka embraced me and, you know, I was one of his draft picks. Well, I came to find out very quickly that I was [Bears coach] Mike Ditka and Jim Finks's pick. But I was not [Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator] Buddy Ryan's pick.$[Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator Buddy] Ryan is, was quite a character as you've already said--,$$Um-hum.$$--but do you, would you consider him a defensive genius at some point?$$Yeah, I would. I, I absolutely considered Buddy a defensive genius. That's without question. He designed and created the '46 Defense', which it was the 46 in that, that was the number that Doug Plank wore, because the defense was designed for the strong safety and, which, of course, was the position I played in the 46. So done right, the strong safety is gonna be the centerpiece of that defense. And certainly, you know, it was genius for Buddy to design the defense, but in order for it to be effective, because he had designed it when he was actually coaching under Weeb Eubanks, with the New York Jets. But the defense was not effective because you had to have two things. You had to have bright players who could understand the X's and O's and be able to, to make multiple shifts before the snap of a ball, and they had to be talented athletically. And it just so happened that that combination came together in '83 [1983], '84 [1984], '85 [1985] with the Chicago Bears. As I said before, I played with ten other, or nine other All-Pros. So it was easy for Dave Duerson to go to the Pro Bowl [National Football League all-star game]. I just simply had to do my job, and if everybody else did their job, there were enough accolades to go around. But then, of course, when Buddy left, Vince Tobin took over as defensive coordinator. And I had even greater success in my career under Vince Tobin. So, so we can't give Buddy too much credit because again, the talent was there with our ball club. But when Buddy left, and after the end of the, of the '85 [1985] season and went to Philly [Philadelphia Eagles football team], we played the, the Eagles the next year in '86 [1986]. And from a defensive perspective, I beat Buddy Ryan by myself. I did things that day that, to this day I cannot explain. I freaked. I did, I had interceptions, I forced fumbles. I had two sacks. And I'll never forget, the game went into overtime. And I grabbed our special teams coach, Steve Kazor, and I told him, I'm, I'm going down on, on the kickoff team. I wasn't even on the kickoff team. And so Steve saw this crazy look in my eyes, he said, "Okay, great, go in at the five position." And so, you know, so I went in and I took some guy out. I don't remember who it was. And on the kickoff, Kevin Butler kicks off, I went down; the return man grabs the ball. I explode into him. He went one way, and the ball went another. We recover. Immediately, Kevin Butler goes onto the field, kicks a field goal, game over. And Buddy Ryan's crying, and that was my vindication. So never had to say a word, beating, simply with work ethic. And at the end of the day, I never had to say a word, and he was the one who broke down--not Dave Duerson.