Thursday, April 17, 2014
Richard “Dick” Potvin took a sniper’s bullet in the head while serving in Korea, but he didn’t let that wound – doctors said he would never walk again – slow him down.
Richard Potvin with some of the young men he worked with at the Southern Maine Boxing Club.
Mr. Potvin taught himself to walk and earned the Purple Heart for his bravery, established a successful business in Old Orchard Beach, served 18 years as a Biddeford city councilor and mentored dozens of troubled youths through a boxing club he founded.
Mr. Potvin died Wednesday at St. Andre’s Health Care Facility in Biddeford. The long-time Biddeford resident was 83 years old.
His passion for living and helping others was extraordinary, said his daughter, Renee O’Neil of Biddeford.
“Just before he died, we had to tell him, ‘Dad, it’s okay to let go.’ It was in his nature to live,” O’Neil said.
After graduating in 1950 from the former St. Louis High School in Biddeford, Mr. Potvin became a boxer. He was so talented that he went undefeated and won the Amateur Maine State Golden Glove Welterweight Championship.
O’Neil said her father could have chosen to pursue a professional career in boxing but instead was drafted into the military and chose to serve in the Korean War.
He was assigned as a forward observer or Army scout, a job that his daughter said came with a short life expectancy. He was on a mission when he took off his helmet to wipe sweat from his brow and was shot in the head. He spent about a year recovering from his wound.
Though his doctors predicted he wouldn’t be able to walk again, he learned to on his own. He was awarded the Purple Heart for his bravery and was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army.
When he returned to the United States, Mr. Potvin went to work for York Bottling Company in Biddeford. He married Doris Cote on Jan. 2, 1956. His wife passed away in 2011.
After their marriage, Mr. Potvin went to work for Lane Construction as part of the company’s survey and civil engineering team. The job required extensive travel, but in the late 1960s, they returned to Biddeford to start a family. Mr. Potvin took a job as director of Biddeford’s Public Works Department.
Mr. Potvin served in that position for two years. The couple decided to purchase a business and opened Potvin’s Market in Old Orchard Beach. They operated the store for 20 years.
“They spoke French. The Canadians (tourists) loved to go there. They made tons of friends,” O’Neil said. “Our family liked to call Old Orchard Beach our second home.”
In the 1970s, Mr. Potvin was elected to the Biddeford City Council. During his political career he became active in the Democratic Party.
He was invited by former Democratic President Jimmy Carter to join him at the White House for breakfast and he hosted Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale at his home in Biddeford during the 1984 presidential campaign.
He was also appointed Maine’s athletic commissioner and served under two governors. He also served as chairman for the New England Boxing Commission.
Despite his hectic professional and political life, Mr. Potvin never lost touch with helping young people and boxing.
“He loved kids and he recognized there was a need,” his daughter said. “He’d talk to the kids who he caught shoplifting in his store. But it wasn’t about punishing them. It was about mentoring and teaching them.”
He started to train his son and a few other kids in his garage. He later moved the group to the old Biddeford Junior High School building and several other locations before settling in the former Woolworth’s building off Main Street.
Single mothers would bring their sons to him for training.
“A lot of those kids didn’t have money or a father figure and a lot of them were fighting on the street. My father taught them discipline and gave them focus,” O’Neil said.
Today, the Southern Maine Boxing Club founded by Mr. Potvin is operated by his son, Jay Potvin of Saco.
O’Neil said her father inspired her as well. He supported her efforts to restore the City Theater, which had fallen into disrepair. She became active in the theater, serving as its business manager and on its board of directors.
“My father may not have gone to college but he was very smart when it came to dealing with people,” O’Neil said.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: