Samuel Eugene “Gene” Poteat, a retired senior Central Intelligence Agency scientific intelligence officer, inventor, teacher, and association executive, died May 22, 2022, in Alexandria, VA, after a long illness.
Gene was born in Bessemer City, North Carolina in 1930 to Eugene Justice and Sarah Darnell Poteat. The family settled in Charleston, South Carolina. Before entering college, Gene served in the military in Europe at the end of World War II. Gene later graduated from The Citadel with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, one of many Americans who obtained college degrees under the G.I. Bill. He earned a master’s degree in Statecraft and National Security Affairs with a specialization in Intelligence Studies from the Institute of World Politics and was awarded an honorary LL.D. for his service to intelligence education and the profession.
Prior to the CIA, Gene worked at Bell Labs and Cape Canaveral, where he designed missile guidance systems during the Cold War. Gene was recruited to join the CIA while serving at Cape Canaveral. Once at the CIA, Gene worked on U-2 spy plane and designed the cloaking system for the Lockheed Martin SR-71 aircraft. He provided scientific expertise on space and naval reconnaissance systems in the Directorate of Science and Technology, and served at the National Reconnaissance Office, as Technical Director of the Navy’s Special Programs Office, and as the Executive Director of the Intelligence Research and Development Council. Gene also served overseas tours in London, Oslo, the Middle East, and Asia, with his family often relocating with him. He also managed the CIA’s worldwide network of monitoring sites.
Gene was awarded the CIA’s Medal of Merit and the National Reconnaissance Office’s Meritorious Civilian Award for his technological innovations.
Gene’s lifelong love of airplanes began as a teenager when he was permitted to fly a Piper Cub airplane, and later enjoyed the Piper Cherokee he purchased for family travel.
During his long career, Gene found himself playing a role in major events in American history. In the summer of 1964, Gene was asked to give a scientific determination about whether a radar operator’s report proved the U.S.S. Maddox was under attack by enemy P.T. boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. Trusting facts and science, Gene replied no conclusion could be reached absent other data regarding weather and surface conditions. Instead, the White House pressed Gene to decide without regard to additional information. Gene stated “no,” the Maddox was not under attack. Gene’s conclusions were ignored, and President Lyndon B. Johnson went on to escalate the Viet Nam War. More than three decades later, when documentarians for the BBC revived interest in the Tonkin incident, Gene had the opportunity to speak face-to-face with the captain of Maddox, who confirmed he saw no P.T. boats that night from his position on the bridge.
Throughout his life, Gene continued to believe that good intelligence, underpinned by hard science, could prevent armed conflict, and promote global stability. He welcomed women into the intelligence community ranks as a positive influence and promoted the admission of women to The Citadel. He also taught classes on women spies and gained expertise in the history of women in espionage.
After leaving the CIA, Gene held many other positions, including as the Director of the Strategic Research Group of the Electronic Warfare Association, president of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) from 1999 to 2015 and served on the Board of Advisors of the International Spy Museum. Gene was Professor Emeritus at the Institute of World Politics, where he taught Technology, Intelligence, Security, and Statecraft, a columnist for The Charleston Mercury, and a contributor to AFIO’s Intelligencer journal.
Martha Cox Poteat, Gene’s beloved wife of 50 years, passed away in 2004. After spending decades as a travelling CIA wife, she became a local photojournalist and airplane pilot. His siblings, Donald W. Poteat, Wayne M. Poteat, and Aloma Faye Ostendorff are deceased.
Gene is survived by his daughters, Sarah Elisabeth Poteat (Bradley J. Garrett), a counterterrorism attorney in the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and Mary Ann Poteat Schaffer (Gary Wayne Schaffer), the Managing Director-Systems Chief Pilot for United Airlines and an attorney, and his grandson, Max Poteat-Garrett, a middle school student.
In addition to the love and comfort of his family, Gene’s last days were brightened by his daughter Mary Ann’s dogs, Bella and Bodie, who remained at his bedside until the end.
Throughout his life, Gene kept a letter from his commanding officer, who wrote that, if Gene chose not to become a military officer, he would likely find success as a “song and dance man.” Gene Poteat loved to play the piano and dance.
In lieu of flowers the family suggests sharing a memory of Gene or a donation in his name to a foundation or charity of your choice.
Memorial service Friday, June 10, 1 p.m. at Demaine Funeral Home, 520 South Washington St., Alexandria, VA.
Posted in: Washington Post
Posted on: 2022-05-31
Link to original obituary: https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/washingtonpost/name/samuel-poteat-obituary?id=34963878