Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / McCallie football coach Ralph Potter and his team celebrate a 35-28 win at rival Baylor on Oct. 4, 2019.

Long before Lisa Potter met Dale Bryant and became Lisa Bryant, she was a cheerleader for East Ridge High School in the late 1970s. Because her father Pete was the football coach at McCallie School, and because her mother Lorraine was always in the McCallie stands to cheer on Pete and the Blue Tornado, Lisa never expected to see her mom at the Pioneers' games on autumn Friday nights.

But there she was for Lisa's first varsity game, which sort of unnerved her, as in, "Is something wrong? Why is my Mom here and not at McCallie?"

So during a break in play, she ran to where Lorraine was sitting and asked why she wasn't watching the Blue Tornado.

Replied her mother: "Because you're here."

Is there any more concrete example of a mother's love and devotion to her child than that? Isn't that what we all hope to hear from our own parents or, better yet, tell our own children?

Because. You're. Here.


Sadly, on Feb. 1, Lorraine Burroughs Potter left this earth to forever more be here with her family in spirit only. Eighty-eight years young when she passed, she's one of millions from the Greatest Generation, or at least the Southern tip of that group, to leave this nation far better than they found it.

And in our current state of unrest, you can't help but wonder what age group will step up to take the place of those who lived through the Great Depression, won World War II and oversaw the greatest era of change, educational opportunity and prosperity we've ever known while holding tight to their values and principles.

Or as son Ralph, the current Blue Tornado coach, said of his mom during a celebration of her life last week: "I never had to wonder if my mother loved me. Her love was unconditional. Imagine what that does for you."

She did big things for her husband, children and four grandchildren for most of her adult life. The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, valedictorian of her class at Red Bank High School, she was gifted as both an organist and an artist.

"Oh, the signs she'd paint for us," recalled one former McCallie player last week. "One year she painted this sign with a ladder and the five steps we needed to take to win the championship. I'll always remember that."

Said one assistant coach's wife: "Those signs were works of art. And when the football banquet rolled around each year, it was like a Heisman Trophy celebration, it was always so beautifully decorated."

Of course, such attention to detail in all things— "My mom sewed beautiful prom dresses for me, and she always made the most amazing Halloween costumes," noted Lisa — sometimes came with an edge.

Current McCallie assistant head of school Kenny Sholl was once an assistant for Pete. One year Lorraine gave him the delicate assignment of perfectly timing music with a video that was to be played at the year-end banquet.

This was at a time when technology was not so advanced as today. The music and video had to run on separate machines. While it went great in practice, the music was off by a second or two the night of the banquet.

Afterward, Lorraine approached Sholl and said, "Kenny, it looks like you're more of a practice player than a gamer."

And did she ever know the game. When Ralph was about to guide McCallie to its first state title in 2001 — the Blue Tornado are currently the two-time reigning state champs of TSSAA Division II Class AAA — he faced a crucial third down late in the playoffs.

After calling a timeout, he turned to the sideline and motioned for a player to enter the game. In the stands, some fans asked Lorraine what play she thought her son would call.

"That's obvious," she said. "They're going to throw the ball to the player he just motioned to come in."

Sure enough, that's exactly what happened.

"My mom would have made a great football coach," Ralph said.

Instead, she was the most loyal and passionate coach's wife and mother imaginable.

Merely consider her reaction one night to some heckling Pete during a game. Weary of the abuse, Lorraine wheeled around and said, "Shut up or I'll knock you down these bleachers."

A more serious glimpse into her determination: She first saw Pete in a boxing match when she was 14 and he was a Golden Gloves champ about to head off to the University of Virginia. She told her mom that night she'd seen the guy she was going to marry. But years later, after they'd been seriously dating for a couple of years, she'd had enough of waiting. She told him she was getting on with her life and moving to Atlanta.

After a few moments of silence, a sheepish Pete said, "Well, I guess we better get married then."

But from 1973 on, Pete leaving Brainerd High School for McCallie, she became married to Blue Tornado football, its First Lady under Pete and then its First Grand Lady after Ralph took over.

Recalled one former player and coach of her beloved staff parties: "Lorraine pulled me aside at the first Christmas party I came to as a coach and told me, 'You're now a part of the most special fraternity there is.' She made us all feel so special."

We need the Lorraine Potters of the world now more than ever. We need to copy the hearts and souls and values of her generation in order to better guide our futures. But at the very least, because she and so many others like her have been here for us, displaying unconditional love and support whether we've deserved it or not, we're surely so much better off than we might have been.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.