William E. Potter was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on July 17, 1905, the son of William and Arlie Potter. In 1928, he graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and in 1933 received a degree in Civil Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Potter married Ruth Elizabeth Turner in 1936. He was commissioned second lieutenant of the U.S. Army in 1928, advanced through the ranks to Major General in 1956; was company officer of the First Engineers at Washington D.C. from 1928 to 1929; assigned to the Nicaragua Canal survey from 1929 to 1932; and professor of military science and tactics in Ohio State University from 1937 to 1940.
Potter was appointed Officer of the 25th Armored Engineers, and also of the 1138th Armored Engineering group from 1940 to 1943; was assistant for plans and operations ETO and Communications Zone from 1943 to 1945; District Engineer of Kansas City from 1945 to 1948; and assistant Chief Engineer for Civil Works, Department of Army, Washington, from 1949 to 1951; Engineer in charge of Missouri River Division in Omaha, Nebraska.
Potter was appointed as Governor of Panama Canal Zone in 1956. Potters tenure as Governor lasted until 1960 and was characterized by a number of impressive accomplishments, including the initiation of the $20 million project to build the Bridge of the Americas, plans for widening the Panama Canal channel to a minimum of 500 feet, lighting Gaillard Cut to allow for 24-hour transit operations and community improvements such as a special education program for handicapped children.
Under the 1955 treaty with Panama, Potter also oversaw the introduction of an equitable wage system that did not discriminate by citizenship and the transfer to Panama of some $28 million in property, including Colons Hotel Washington. Additionally, supply and support facilities that were offering services that could be provided by Panama were closed.
Governor Potter rejected plans for the construction of a new governors residence, insisting that the existing house be restored in order to preserve its historic value. Whenever possible, materials for the restoration were obtained in Panama. A gardening enthusiast, Mrs. Potter directed much of the landscaping on the residence grounds.
In 1968 the Potters settled in Floridas Orlando area, where the
governor distinguished himself further by contributing to the infrastructure
of Disney World. Governor Potter died on December 5, 1988.