Category: Children's Health, Health Magazine

Title:‘Bravery and imagination’

Author: Camille Scarborough
Date Published: November 8, 2021
Convinced that a multidisciplinary approach could lead to better outcomes, John F. Potter, MD (1925–2021) established Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and directed it for almost 20 years.
Convinced that a multidisciplinary approach could lead to better outcomes, John F. Potter, MD (1925–2021) established Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and directed it for almost 20 years. 

Remembering John F. Potter, MD

On June 28, 2021, John F. Potter, MD (M’49, R’57), founder of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, passed away at the age of 95. His last moments were spent at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, the site of his distinguished career as a surgeon and cancer researcher.

Born on July 26, 1925, he grew up in New York and attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He served as a Navy corpsman during World War II before enrolling in Georgetown School of Medicine. After his graduation in 1949, he was recalled to active duty in the Navy during the Korean War.

Following his military service Potter spent much of the 1950s as a resident at Georgetown and a surgical oncology researcher at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). In 1960, he became a full-time professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine while continuing to work as a surgeon and researcher.

When he moved into the role of Chief of Surgical Oncology at Georgetown, he decided to make a change that would resonate through the years.

“In my day, cancer was treated in a multi-factoral way,” explained Potter in 2018. “I wanted to get a center established that would meld all of these disciplines into one united whole.”

His vision led to a planning grant in 1968 and the formal establishment of the cancer center in 1970. That same year, Vince Lombardi—coach of the Washington football team from 1969 to 1970—came in for treatment of colorectal cancer.

Potter was named the center’s inaugural director, and in 1974, NCI designated it as a Comprehensive Cancer Center. It also began carrying the name of Coach Lombardi to memorialize his fighting spirit.

During his 20 years as director, Potter was a proponent of providing psychological support for cancer patients and in the 1970s helped develop a facility with a homelike atmosphere where patients could have favorite meals and visits from relatives. Georgetown Lombardi also initiated one of the country’s first “life counseling” programs for children with cancer.

He was author of more than 60 studies in medical journals and in 1988 published a book for the general public, How to Improve Your Odds Against Cancer, outlining ways to protect against and cope with cancer. Potter taught at Georgetown well into the 1990s and had an advisory role with the medical school until 2015.

Never forgetting his veteran community, he also helped launch the U.S. Military Cancer Institute, which was later merged into the John P. Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“Dr. Potter transformed the care of patients in the Washington, D.C., area through an act of bravery and imagination,” said Louis M. Weiner, MD, the current director of Georgetown Lombardi.

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