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Thomas Tyler Potterfield Jr.: 1958-2014


When a group of city employees and young urban planners and dreamers formed a salon last fall to talk about Richmond and its future, it searched for a name. Members liked the T-Pot Collective, an homage to the group's anchor, senior city planner Tyler Potterfield, he of encyclopedic knowledge and vast love for the city.

No, Potterfield said, instead suggesting the Supremo Guano Salon.

"Before the Civil War, we had ships coming back to Richmond after delivering cargo of flour with coffee and guano, which was fermented bird feces harvested near Ecuador," says Giles Harnsberger, executive director of Groundwork RVA and an organizer of the salon. "He said that sometimes, like with their shipments, we'll get a bit of both."

Potterfield died last month at 55. The news devastated those who knew, loved and admired him.

"We can't believe that he's gone," says Ryan Rinn, executive director of the Storefront for Community Design. "We can still hear his voice telling us some crazy fact that nobody knew. He had a style about him that made him easy to love, really easy to become friends with."

A published author and longtime bureaucrat, Potterfield is remembered as the person whose passion for Richmond turned into impromptu rafting trips and walks around Hollywood Cemetery.

Harnsberger's friendship with him started when she documented a historic house set for demolition in Union Hill. Potterfield showed her the intricate details about to be lost, right down to the doorknobs.

"He kind of opened up my perspective, and I started thinking about the fabric of the city as something we have to actively work to retain," Harnsberger recalls. "He became a role model to me then."

The sentiment is echoed throughout Richmond's next generation of urban planners. Bike Walk RVA director Max Hepp-Buchanan, who moved here from Seattle, says Potterfield's salon made him feel part of a community for the first time. Kathleen Onufer, who worked alongside Potterfield in the city planning department, says his enthusiasm for revamping the riverfront inspired her.

"There's a whole crowd of people committed to carrying forth that legacy," Onufer says. "He touched an incredible number of lives."

Harnsberger says the next salon will address how to continue Potterfield's work, including seeing through the proposed Brown's Island Dam Walk, a 1,600-foot span that ranked among his most beloved projects.

And while some have suggested changing the name back to the T-Pot Collective in his honor, Harnsberger says she's resisting it because of his original opposition. Whatever the name, she says the way forward is clear: "More than ever, we realize the importance of building on what Tyler's work was, which was how to care for the city."