Margaret, George and Michael Potts Collection
Two of the photographs in the Michael Potts Collection spotlight Margaret Potts and Viola Gentry, the Flying Flapper of Freeport. The two, about to depart for California, were contestants in the Powderpuff Derby, sponsored annually by the Ninety-nines, an aviation group begun in 1929 by Amelia Earhart to support and advance licensed female pilots.
Margaret Gudzin Potts was born in Schenectady, New York in 1915. The daughter of immigrant parents, her ability to quickly learn languages was complemented by her aptitude for math and science. She graduated from high school at the age of 15. A born teacher, she was tutoring students in mathematics at an early age. She earned a commercial flight instructor rating during WW II and served as a lieutenant instructor in the Civil Air Patrol. Later, she taught flying to interested military personnel at Camp Hero in Montauk.
Both Margaret and her husband George Potts were pilots and served in the military during WW II. In her 2003 oral history, Margaret Potts claimed that the first time she met her future husband, “it was like that song from South Pacific. ‘One enchanted evening, you will meet a stranger...’ ’’ The couple married in 1944 and had one son, Michael, who donated this photographic collection to the Montauk Library.
After the war, George became a fisherman, skippering the Blue Fin, and the couple devised a brilliant strategy to enhance his catch: Margaret would scout for schools of fish from her plane and radio back the location to her husband. At the same time, Margaret started a seaplane business, ferrying passengers to coastal New England and Manhattan.
Eventually switching gears, she became a teacher in the Montauk School, giving rides in her plane to students who won achievement awards. In 1961 Richard Gilmartin approached Margaret about becoming a member of his Board. He had just founded the Montauk Historical Society. “I’m not a joiner,” she said, but in fact, Margaret became a very active member of MHS. In addition, she became President of the Montauk Village Association and was one of a core group to kick off the Montauk Library’s oral history program in the late 1990s.
Right after giving her own oral history in 2003, Margaret sent a letter to the Library describing other memories she wished she had recorded. Her awe-filled recollections were based on her unique perspective from the cockpit, like witnessing the gorgeous purple of giant tuna swimming in schools, and a slow-moving rainbow that appeared on the horizon. It glided across the ocean toward Montauk, a curved, colorful contrail orchestrated by Mother Nature herself.
George and Margaret celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1994. George predeceased Margaret Potts, who died in 2005 at the age of 90. Son Michael captains the Blue Fin IV, keeping the link to his parents alive.
Scope of Collection
This collection contains images of husband and wife Margaret and George Potts of Montauk, along with personal family photo album pages that include Michael, their son. Additionally, there are photos of George Potts with his parents. Margaret's airplanes and seaplanes, along with George's sportfishing vessels, predominate as subjects. Several photographs document Margaret's participation in the 1961 Powderpuff Derby. Fiftieth-wedding anniversary images are included in the collection, as well.