Nelson Thomas Potter Jr., of Lincoln, September 22, 1939-May 12, 2013.

Born to Nelson and Hazel (Park) Potter, he was raised in Mt. Morris, IL. Graduated summa cum laude from Monmouth College in 1961 with degrees in philosophy and English. In 1961, Nelson was named a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. He received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Johns Hopkins University in 1969. Member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Appointed to the faculty of the University of Nebraska Department of Philosophy in 1965 and chaired the department from 1980-85. From 1974-76, Nelson directed UNL’s Centennial Educational Program. He retired from UNL in 2010 as a professor emeritus. His scholarly areas of specialization were ethics, aesthetics, and Immanuel Kant; he also taught history of philosophy, philosophy of law, and social philosophy. He served as President of the North American Kant Society from 1997-2000.

In addition to his academic career, he served the Nebraska Committee for the Humanities from 1974-79 as a consultant and participating humanist, as a board member from 1979-82, and as chair in 1982. Active in Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty and ACLU Nebraska for many years. President of Lincoln Friends of Chamber Music 1971-1986.

In 1978, Nelson married Kathleen Johnson. Survivors include his wife Kathy and daughter Sophia; brother James (Ann) Potter; nieces Beth Zarring and Jenny Fraser; and cousins Chuck Newburg, Dick Newburg, Paul Park, and Claudia Guenther. Preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Barbara Potter.

The family prefers that those who wish may make contributions in his name to the ACLU Foundation of Nebraska, 941 ‘O’ Street, Ste. 706 Lincoln, NE 68508; Monmouth College, Department of Development and College Relations, 700 E. Broadway Ave., Monmouth, IL 61462; or Sheldon Friends of Chamber Music, Sheldon Museum of Art, P.O. Box 880300, Lincoln NE 68588. Condolences online at

Memorial service on Saturday, June 22, 2013, 11:00 a.m., Wyuka Funeral Home, 3600 O Street, Lincoln, NE.

He will be recognized at the first Sheldon Friends of Chamber Music concert on Sunday, September 29, 2013, 3:00 p.m., Sheldon Museum of Art, 12th & R Streets in Lincoln.

14 Responses to Nelson Thomas Potter Jr.

  1. Patty Steck says:

    I was a graduate student at UNL and took at least two, if not more, Kant courses from Nelson. He was a smart and kind man and I’m a much better philosopher and philosophy teacher because of him.

  2. Richard and Barbara Voeltz says:

    Nelson was a good friend and colleague of ours for many years. We will miss him.

  3. Chris McCord says:

    Nelson was a great philosopher, as well as a caring,compassionate, and witty man. His genuine kindness was clear to anyone who got to know him at all. I was lucky to have studied with him in the early 90ss, and he was an excellent teacher and friend. He helped students, pure and simple. I am glad I got the chance to see him again at the time of his retirement. This is a great loss, but it is the loss of someone who has made great contributions to the world — philosophical and otherwise.

  4. Allison Nespor says:

    Kathy and Sophia, please accept my condolences. I regret that I will not be in Lincoln for the memorial service.

  5. David Moshman says:

    Nelson was a major advocate for civil liberties and human rights for decades in multiple contexts including Amnesty International, Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty, and ACLU Nebraska. He was an activist philosopher. I’m fortunate to have known and worked with him.

  6. Pieranna Garavaso and Lory Lemke says:

    Kathy and Sophia, sorry about your loss. We were never able to come back and visit, but we have loved receiving Nelson’s yearly invitations and his kind notes every Christmas. Without Nelson, we would have never know about the inmates in the Lincoln jail who wanted to learn logic.

  7. Edward Abplanalp says:

    I took several classes with Nelson, and sat in on many more of his seminars. He also supervised my dissertation. He was a remarkably patient teacher who was generous with his time. He was a good man who loved philosophy, music, and his family. He also threw great parties.

  8. Halla Kim says:

    Nelson was the source of inspirations for the students of Kant in America through his influential writings. Please accept my condolences.

  9. Norma Bruce says:

    I’ve known Nelson all my life–we rode our tricycles together, were lab partners in chemistry in high school, played in the school band together. I loved his parents and family. So very sorry Kathy and Sophia for your loss.

  10. Amy Miller says:

    Nelson Potter was the true scholarly gentleman ideal. When I was still in law school, I heard him speak about his mentoring of Willie Otey on death row. I remembered wondering how he could go the distance of visiting that terrible place when I was only willing to occasionally write a letter or sign a petition. I will never be as brave or as generous as Nelson was, but what a role model to at least attempt to live up to. It was a beautiful tribute to his life today; thank you all.

  11. Lynne Fleming Wilburn says:

    Nelson(Tom) and I were schoolmates-growing up in this very small midwest village. Coversations with Tom were hard for me -feeling a little more than dumb in his presence….however, he always put me at ease and we thought so much alike even early on-it was always good conversation. Here’s to Tom and those like Tom-damn few of us left…”tho much is taken-much abides”…Thanks Tom….Lynne and the members of the Mt. Morris High School Class of 1957

  12. Dave Bowers says:

    Nelson and I were classmates at Monmouth College and while we couldn’t have been further apart politically, we became good friends which led to great discussions. He was a kind man and when we later served together as trustees of the college, Nelson used his kindness to help us walk successfully through difficult times. He was always the voice of reason in the room. My sincere regrets Kathy and Sophia.

  13. Michael L. Radelet says:

    I met Nelson while we both worked on the Otey case in 1990, and just learned today that he had passed away from an article in the latest newsletter of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. What a wonderful person he was – bright, hard-working, and tirelessly committed to social justice. I was honored in December when he came to hear me speak in Lincoln, and we had a wonderful visit. He will remain a role model for many of us – he leads us on!
    Michael L. Radelet
    University of Colorado


    Tom and I were classmates at Mt.Morris high school class of 1957. He well be missed by all. My sincer regrets Kathy and Sophia.

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