Mac alumna remembers her brother with new student awards in math and physics

Kitsy Fraser and John Potter on a ski trip in 1994.

“I have a very warm spot in my heart for Mac,” says Kitsy Fraser ’61. She and her brother, John Potter ’58, would get together for ski vacations — here they are in 1994. Kitsy is now establishing two awards in John’s memory to support future generations at McMaster.

Six years younger, she followed her brother’s lead and enrolled at McMaster in 1958. He had studied math and physics. She majored in social sciences.

“He left home at 22,” recalls Kitsy Fraser ’61 of her brother, John Potter ’58. The original plan was to travel in Europe for a year — but John ended up staying in France, where he completed a doctorate in physics at the University of Paris in 1963. (He taught himself French so well that, while a PhD student, he translated a textbook in quantum physics from French to English.)

From there, opportunity took him to the United States. He taught physics at the City College of New York, worked as a research scientist at the Institute of Space Studies in the Goddard Space Flight Center, and built a career in the Space Physics Department of Lockheed Engineering and Management Services Company, where he took part in a NASA Skylab experiment.

John Potter on a ski trip“John and I were both avid skiers,” says Kitsy. “So, we did a 10-day ski holiday together every year for eight years.” After Mac, she had moved to British Columbia, where she taught high school and met her future husband.

Her brother was also a sailor, a pilot, a sophisticated investor, a lover of opera and Bach — and a connoisseur of fine wine, single malt scotch and cigars. “He was quite a character,” Kitsy recalls fondly.

In John’s final years, Kitsy would tell him of the Kitsy Fraser Bursary she had established at McMaster for students in the Faculty of Social Sciences.

“I’d read him the thank-you letters I’d received from students and reminded him of the help he got from our family to complete his degrees.” They decided that when the time came, she would establish student awards in his name, using funds from his estate.

John passed away in May 2018. Two student awards at McMaster will honour his memory and life achievements: The Dr. John Potter Scholarship will be awarded to students enrolled in a Physics or Mathematics program who attain high averages, and The Dr. John Potter Bursary has been established for students enrolled in a Physics or Mathematics program who demonstrate financial need.

John Potter graduation photo
John Potter ’58

“John became interested in math and science while at McMaster, and he went on to such a successful and well-regarded career as a space physicist,” says Kitsy.

In going through John’s papers, she discovered many glowing commendations from past employers, who praised everything from his “perseverance, tenacity, and great technical depth of experience” to his “outstanding performance in planning and leading.”

These newly established student awards will help support future generations of scientists who will follow in John’s footsteps.

“We’re tremendously grateful to Kitsy and John for their generosity,” says Jeremiah Hurley, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. “Kitsy is already having a wonderful impact on students studying in the social sciences at Mac — so far, 20 have benefited from her bursary. These new awards are a lovely way to remember her brother and give a helping hand to students in the Faculty of Science.”

Kitsy Fraser graduation photo
Kitsy (Potter) Fraser ’61

Kitsy is clear on why she chooses to support her alma mater. “I had a wonderful time,” she says.

She made lifelong friends, she wrote a column called “It’s a Date with Kitsy” that promoted upcoming events, and in between classes “I learned the rudiments of bridge.” She still plays every week.

“And of course, my studies vastly expanded my interests,” she says. Kitsy credits her Mac degree with helping to prepare her to teach high school.

“McMaster gave me portable skills and made such a change in my life. I have a very warm spot in my heart for Mac.”

Make a contribution to the Dr. John Potter Scholarship or the Dr. John Potter Bursary.

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