Ralph Potter, Professor Emeritus, Dies

March 2, 2021
Professor Ralph Potter in 2006. Photo by Steve Gilbert
Professor Ralph Potter in 2006. Photo by Steve Gilbert

Ralph Benajah Potter, Jr., Professor of Social Ethics Emeritus at Harvard Divinity School, died February 25, at age 89. Potter passed away at home in the care of his family after a number of years in declining health.

Potter began teaching at HDS in 1965, shortly after he earned his ThD from Harvard. During his decades as a faculty member at Harvard, he taught courses on topics including Christian ethics, friendship, conversation, the simple life, and fame. In 1997, he delivered the School’s Convocation address titled, “Moralists, Maxims, and Formation for Ministry.”

“An ethicist, minister, and devoted member of the Harvard community, Ralph Potter had a profound understanding of and deep curiosity about ethical debates and moral discourse,” said Acting Dean and Bartlett Professor of New England Church History David Holland. “Our School community offers its condolences to Professor Potter’s family and mourns his loss.”

Although he retired in 2003, Potter remained close to Harvard. He was a member of the Senior Common Room of Lowell House and later Winthrop House, and closely followed Harvard’s athletic teams, particularly the Crimson football team.

HDS Professors Ralph Potter and Harvey Cox.

Potter was a founding fellow of the Hastings Center for Bioethics and was a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society for Christian Ethics, Société Européene de Culture, and the Society for Values in Higher Education. He wrote numerous scholarly articles and authored the book War and Moral Discourse.

In 1952, he graduated from Occidental College and as class president of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois, in 1955. After graduation, he became an ordained Presbyterian Minister and served as pastor and founder of the Clay County Presbyterian Larger Parish in Kentucky.

A virtual memorial service has been held and members of the HDS faculty honored Potter with a moment of silence during a recent faculty meeting.

—by Michael Naughton