In 27 years as a state police officer in Eastern Kentucky, Chester Potter broke up moonshine stills, tracked murder suspects, solved big cases and survived plenty of close calls.
Once he was searching for a murder suspect outside a house when he suddenly came face to face with a mean-looking man pointing a shotgun at him, Potter recalled in an interview last year.
"He said, 'You know, I've always wanted to know how a person feels when they are about to die. Can you tell me?'" Potter said. "I said, 'If you're talking to me, I don't feel too good.'"
The "disagreement" ultimately turned out all right, Potter said.
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His son, Dennis Potter, said Monday that he didn't know how his father got out of that jam, but he did know "he ended up with the shotgun."
Chester Potter, the last surviving member of the first Kentucky State Police cadet class in 1948, died Saturday in Floyd County, where he had been a resident of Riverview Health Care Center.
He turned 94 on Dec. 31.
Potter retired from the state police in 1975 but retained a lifelong connection with the agency. The cake at his party two weeks ago had a badge on it, said his daughter, Sherry P. Shepherd.
"His life was the Kentucky State Police," Shepherd said.
Sherry Bray, who works in the state police public affairs office, said that when two state police officers went to see Potter last week, he sat up for the first time in days and saluted them.
Potter grew up in Pike County and served in an artillery unit during World War II. He was badly wounded in a battle in Italy but went back to his unit after several months in the hospital, Dennis Potter said.
Chester Potter joined the state highway patrol in 1946 and then went into the inaugural training class of cadets after the legislature authorized the Kentucky State Police in 1948.
There were 26 men in that first class, according to state police. The Thin Gray Line — the agency's nickname — was a lot thinner then.
Not all officers had cars assigned to them, for instance. One time, Potter rented a horse when he needed to go on an assignment, he said in an interview with the agency last year.
And officers didn't have radios at first, so they kept track of who in their communities had telephones they could use to make calls, or they relied on people to relay information to the post for them, Chester Potter said in the interview.
"Many a time I wished we'd had better communications. There wouldn't have been as many knots and bruises on my head if we had," Potter said, grinning.
Potter's daughter, Shepherd, said her father was not a big man — maybe 5 feet, 8 inches tall and 150 pounds — but he wouldn't back down from a fight.
"Buddy, you knew he had ahold of you when he got ahold of you," she said.
Dennis Potter said someone intentionally ran over his father one time, and that his father also got shot in the chest but was wearing a bulletproof vest that stopped the bullet.
Chester Potter said in the interview last year that he liked to work alone, in part to keep down the number of targets.
Tracking people in the steep hills was his specialty. Potter recalled trailing suspects for days on end.
"The trick was to pursue the person and make them believe they were going to get away. You don't press them too hard. Wear them down. Just keep on pressing him until he runs out of food or energy and gives up without a shootout," Potter said. "Many a night, with snow fallin', I've rolled back under a cliff, raked leaves up into a pile for warmth, slept for a few hours then would get up and go again."
Potter retired when he turned 55, the mandatory retirement age at the time. He then spent a decade as a police detective in Pike County, his family said.
Missy Allen, chief executive officer at Riverview Health Care nursing home, said a number of state police officers visited Potter as his health failed, and the visits cheered him.
"He was a joy," she said of Potter. "He was just a good, humble, genuinely kind, law-abiding man."
Potter said in the interview last year that the thing he liked most about his job was helping others.
"You had the opportunity to improve things a little bit, and that's what makes the world go around," he said. "The most important thing that I have ever done was giving someone else a helping hand."
Visitation for Potter will be at Carter Funeral Home in Prestonsburg from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday. Services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Community Methodist Church, according to the funeral home.