Kevin Pottinger remembered as a Renaissance man

Pottinger led a life on Vashon that was centered on family, service and creative accomplishment.

Kevin Pottinger, playing the keyboards at a performance by the band, Loose Change. (Courtesy Photo)

Kevin Pottinger, playing the keyboards at a performance by the band, Loose Change. (Courtesy Photo)

Kevin Pottinger, known to many islanders as a musician, newspaper columnist and family man, died on Wednesday, Jan. 2. He was 62 years old.

His death, caused by multiple myeloma, occurred in Seattle at Swedish Hospital, said his wife, Maria Pottinger.

While commuting to the Seattle area for more than 20 years as a programmer and analyst for Providence Health & Services, Pottinger led a life on Vashon that was centered on family, service and creative accomplishment.

He served as a longtime pastoral assistant for sacred music and liturgy at St. John Vianney Catholic Church, where he was a parishioner. During his tenure, he frequently directed the choir, worked with cantors, selected hymns and choral music sung at the church and accompanied masses.

“He was truly an amazing musician who was so intuitive and who had such a feel for the way that music worked,” said Andrew Krikawa, co-founder of Vashon Opera and a cantor at the church. “He found great joy in music as an expression of human life.”

Krikawa recalled times of working intently with Pottinger to puzzle out the 10th-century notation systems of Gregorian chants, and also the passion with which his friend played powerful resurrection hymns such as “I Am the Bread of Life.”

“He would practically break the piano on that every time,” he said.

But by night, Pottinger also reveled in playing raucous secular songs, as music director of the popular island band Loose Change. With Pottinger pounding the keyboards, the band drew barefoot dancing crowds at Strawberry Festival stages and other gigs, playing rock and blues standards, including “Mustang Sally,” “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Pink Cadillac.”

Troy Kindred, the band’s leader and frontman, and Pottinger’s close friend for years, described his bandmate’s contributions to the group as immeasurable.

“Very affectionately, I called him ‘the puppeteer,’” Kindred said. “He organized all the music, arranged the songs and called all the shots on stage. Every time we played together, there were magical moments.”

Pottinger was also widely known as a devoted husband and father, who delighted in his marriage, at the age of 44, to his wife Maria.

Theirs was a whirlwind and unlikely courtship, said Maria, who described how she met her husband online, through the Catholic room of Matchmaker.com. Despite the fact that Maria was 12 years younger than her soon-to-be-husband and lived in Illinois, the pair quickly married and settled on Vashon in 2000. Rapidly after that came the births of four children, including twins, in the next three-and-a-half years.

Pottinger did more than enjoy his family life — he chronicled it all, in more than 100 humor columns, first published under the banner of “We’ve Got a lot of Kids,” in The Vashon Loop, starting in 2006. The column was later picked up by The Beachcomber, and called “Family Life,” in 2012.

The columns were frequently laugh-out-loud funny, but also poignant. Pottinger wrote about such things as his kids squabbling at the dinner table, the more prosaic moments of being a dance and sports dad, cutting his long grass with a recalcitrant lawnmower and a disastrous camping trip when the whole family wound up throwing up. But he also had a way of stepping back, as a writer, to convey a sense of wonder at his good fortune in becoming a husband and father later in life.

He revealed himself to be a man who cried at movies, marveled at Technicolor sunsets and was frequently awestruck by the beauty of his wife.

In one column, he ended an account of a harried day, spent working from home in a house filled with noisy children, with a description of a bike ride with his youngest son.

“As we circle the gray-green harbor in the truth of the afternoon sun, I conclude that my work might still be there tomorrow, but this bike ride, and this day, comes only once,” he wrote.

Pottinger was a native islander, born on July 28, 1956, to a family living on Vashon.

His older sister, Signe Drake, described the family as musical and said that the numerous houses in which they resided always had an old, upright piano. Pottinger’s first and only childhood piano teacher was his maternal grandmother, she said.

The family moved to Seattle when Pottinger was 4 years old but returned to the island when he was in high school. He graduated from Vashon High School in 1974, and then attended Washington State University until 1979, where he studied music theory and composition and played jazz piano with the touring WSU stage band.

Following his college years, Pottinger briefly pursued a career in music, said his wife. A high point came in the late 1980s or early 1990s when he played a New Year’s Eve show in front of the Space Needle as a member of the well-known Seattle band Ike and the Orbiters. To support himself, Pottinger worked at the ticket booth at Key Arena and for an insurance company, which eventually led to his career in information technology.

An account of Pottinger’s life, said Maria, should include the fact that in high school and college, he began a years-long struggle with addiction — a condition he addressed, at the age of 32, by joining Alcoholics Anonymous.

“One day at a time, he reached 30 years of sobriety before his death,” she said.

Calling him a Renaissance man, Maria said her husband was a man of many talents, including writing, carpentry, construction, cooking and the ability to play almost any musical instrument.

“He was good at all of it,” she said.

Krikawa also recalled Pottinger’s many contributions to Vashon Opera and St. John Vianney Church, where he carried out his work in good spirits, with quiet skill.

“He was the humble servant,” Krikawa said.

Pottinger is survived by his wife, Maria, and their four children, Colin, Meredith, Alec and Grace, as well as his sisters and brothers, Signe Drake and Carrie, Paul and Todd Pottinger. His mother and father, Michael and Juanita Pottinger, preceded him in death.

There will be a vigil and viewing in the sanctuary of St. John Vianney Church at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11, with a celebration of life starting at 7:30 p.m. in the church’s social hall, where islanders can share stories, songs and memories. A funeral mass will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, followed by a procession to Vashon Cemetery and a reception at the church.

Donations to support college expenses for the Pottinger children can be made at gofundme.com. Search “Supporting the Pottinger Family.” Islanders are encouraged to visit the family’s online guestbook at islandfuneral.com.

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