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Ramsay Potts; Lawyer and World War II Pilot

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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ramsay D. Potts, 89, a highly decorated World War II combat pilot who became a corporate lawyer and founder of a large Washington law firm, died May 28 at Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Boynton Beach, Fla., after a stroke.

After the war, Mr. Potts graduated from Harvard University law school, was a special assistant to then-Air Force Secretary W. Stuart Symington and president of the Military Air Transport Association, a trade organization of charter and cargo carriers.

In 1958, Mr. Potts and three other lawyers formed a Washington firm that, after some changes among top partners, was long known as Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge. The firm's portfolio included corporate law, securities regulation, environmental law and nuclear energy issues.

One of Mr. Potts's clients was the Investment Company Institute, a trade group for the then-new mutual fund industry. He also was a specialist on air transportation law.

He retired in 1986 as managing partner and became senior counsel of the firm, which grew to more than 300 lawyers with offices in Tysons Corner, New York, Los Angeles and London.

Last year, the firm merged with San Francisco-based Pillsbury Winthrop LLP to form Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.

Ramsay Douglas Potts Jr. was born Oct. 24, 1916, in Memphis, where his father was a cotton merchant.

He was a 1941 commerce graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a Southern Conference leader in tennis and guard on the basketball team.

During World War II, he served in the Army Air Forces as a combat pilot. Assigned to the 8th Air Force, he flew B-24 Liberator bombers in missions over France and North Africa and participated in a vital raid on oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, one of the top sources of petroleum to the Germans.

For the August 1943 run at Ploesti, he had to fly at house-top level, enduring what a military publication at the time called "merciless fire from almost every conceivable ground defense weapon. . . . During the target run, a direct flak burst tore away the vertical stabilizer, and another blast shattered the elevator control cables at one point."

The plane, called the Duchess, nearly lost control until the engineer spliced the torn cables with .50-caliber shell links. When the Duchess returned to base, it had more than 50 fist-size holes in the wings and fuselage.

Mr. Potts won many promotions -- he was full colonel at 27. When Mr. Potts was group leader of the 453rd Bomb Group, actor James Stewart was his operations officer. "We hit it off very well, even though he was eight years older than I was," he said of Stewart, with whom he remained friends. "He was a wonderful addition to the group and had the same languid style as in his movies."

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