Erwin Potts: caring boss, wonderful mentor, good friend and committed to journalistic excellence

Erwin Potts, former chairman and CEO of The McClatchy Co.
Erwin Potts, former chairman and CEO of The McClatchy Co. Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

Each week more than a million people die around the world; almost always they are more than a million strangers.

But not this week, this week a friend died. And he was a good man, good in all the ways that counted, especially as a husband, father and grandfather.

His name was Erwin Potts, and there was a time not so long ago in the scheme of things when he sat in a corner office in the building that houses this newspaper as the chairman and CEO of The McClatchy Company.

He was my boss, a wonderful mentor and, as noted, a friend.

He, like the man who brought him to Sacramento, the late C.K. McClatchy, was a person of unyielding integrity, a deep devotion to his community and an unbreakable commitment to journalistic excellence.

He started as a journalist and went on to be a major success on the business side. But that seed of journalism was always planted solidly in his heart. And for those of us in the newsroom, we knew we had an ally.

Oh, he could be tough and demanding, but never in a harsh way. He set high standards and expected you to reach them, just as he did for himself. And I can still hear him saying, “Service is No. 1.” By that he meant service to our readers and our advertisers, and service to each other.

His leadership started from a place of caring, a place where trust existed, a place where he always tried hard to make sure that visions and goals were embraced by all involved in the process.

He grew up in North Carolina, graduated from the University and bled Tar Heel blue whenever March Madness rolled around, never forgetting where he came from and how he got to where he was.

He walked like John Wayne, played tennis and golf with the same intensity he showed as a reporter or in the boardroom, and instinctively knew how to bring people together.

The first time I met him was in 1984 when I came to Sacramento to interview with him and C.K. to be executive editor of The Bee. It was then that he shared something from our pasts that I never knew before.

Let’s go back to 1969 when I was the new editor of the Palm Beach Post in Florida. And we were fortunate enough to hire six of the eight people in the Palm Beach bureau of the Miami Herald.

As Erwin told it, the Herald editors wanted to know what was going on up there. So they sent their city editor to check it out. Which he did.

Then flash forward 15 years. The man across the table telling me this tale with a smile on his face was that same city editor, Erwin Potts.

My luck held out and soon I was working for the two men who exemplified the ideal bosses for any journalist.

Yes, each week more than a million strangers die. But this week a friend passed on.

He was a good man. His name was Erwin.

Gregory Favre is the former executive of The Sacramento Bee and retired vice president of news for the McClatchy Company. He can be contacted at