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Wally Potts, 83; Pioneering Diver, Spear Fisherman

Obituaries

February 16, 2002|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cahill said Potts "pushed the limits in terms of depths." One memorable time off La Jolla, he dove so deep and so long while fighting a fish that he passed out and Prodanovich had to revive him.

Potts, a manufacturing engineer, worked for Solar Aircraft Co. in San Diego before and during World War II and was with the company, later named Solar Turbines, for 41 years. He retired in 1978.

As a member of the Bottom Scratchers, Potts became a pioneer in ocean conservation. The club was, for example, instrumental in getting a state law passed in the late '50s that protects the broomtail grouper.

In the early years, Cahill said, "a lot of the guys went in [the ocean] and said, 'What a bounty!' But as the sport changed and they matured, they saw the impact of mechanized forms of fishing and the threat it posed to the health of the fish stocks."

Potts, Cahill said, "worked to try to set limits on the take of the more factory, or mechanized, approaches to fishing. He advocated a small-scale approach, an ethic articulated by some as 'one man, one fish, one day.'"

Like many who spend a lot of time in the water, Potts became hard of hearing. He stopped diving sometime in the 1980s.

But over the years, a constant stream of surfers, lifeguards, fishermen and divers continued to make pilgrimages to Potts' garage to discuss equipment and diving. Cahill was one of them.

Lauded as an 'Old Chief of the Water'

"The image I always got was of the young Hawaiian warriors sort of sitting around the canoe house and talking about the old days," said Cahill. "If watermen are a coastal tribe, I'd say Wally was kind of one of the old chiefs of the water."

Potts is survived by his wife of 62 years, Vi; daughter Lynda Manganelli of La Jolla; son Michael of San Diego; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Funeral services are pending.

Donations may be made to the Wally Potts Memorial Fund, which will benefit a sport diving exhibit at the Hall of Champions in San Diego's Balboa Park and fund research for the history of skin diving in San Diego and marine conservation efforts. For information, call Keir Fitzgerald of the Bank of America at (858) 654-6529.

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