|Affinity Memorial Center|
221 West Airtex
Houston, Texas 877090
Defiant Adventurer, Wife and Mother”
Leta Mae Potocki was born on Tuesday, May 7th, 1940 in Powell, Wyoming to Garth Leroy Wilhelm and Rena Blanche (Cozzens) Wilhelm. Leta was one of five children, three of whom passed away prior to her birth; Don Frank Wilhelm, Betty Blanche Wilhelm and Harold Leroy Wilhelm. Growing up in Wyoming during this time was not easy, but the family held together tightly. In 1947 a horrible shooting incident claimed the life of her older brother Russell Garth Wilhelm, when Leta was only seven years old. The death was devastating to the family.
Now, the only surviving child of her parents, Leta focused her energy on helping the family as much as possible and mastering her education. The result was a brilliant young lady who could run a gas station for her father, hunt for the family, be academically successful while at the same time setting a minor speed record for riding a “Twin-engine Monarch” from Powell to Cowley and back. Unfortunately, her motorcycle racing career was cut short when her father found out. However her academic endeavors succeeded and Leta advanced quickly through her classes, graduating ahead of her peers from Powell High School in 1957. From there Leta sought out degrees in Nursing and Business Administration from the University of Wyoming, supplementing her scholarship by working at McIntyre Motors as a corporate liason and secretary.
During the summer, Leta would also work as a Guide at a local Dude Ranch in the mountains of Wyoming. This job consisted or two primary tasks; riding a horse all over God’s Country and making sure the green-horns and city slickers didn’t get hurt on the trail rides, while they dreamt they were real cowboys. Fortunately, she performed both jobs flawlessly and not only got to meet John Wayne, but more importantly, met Sigmund Richard Potocki while he was working on his Master’s thesis. After much work on his part, Sigmund finally obtained permission from Leta’s father to marry her, which he did on June 7th 1962, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It has been alleged it was at this time Leta learned he was not a Gemologist as he had stated, but a Petroleum Geologist.
Mobil Oil asked both Leta and Sigmund to come to New York for an interview, regarding a job offer. After much careful deliberation, Leta and Sigmund accepted an offer to work in an exotic location, near pristine beaches and luxury accommodations, in a little known place called Tripoli, Libya. While her husband was playing in the Sahara Desert, Leta wasted no time in creating a furnishing a home. Utilizing Italian and Arabic, she haggled with the best shop owners like an old pro…the Libyan bazaars never stood a chance. Not content to be a pedestrian, Leta obtained her own Libyan driver’s license and a little MG Midget which she used to explore the coast and terrorized many a slow moving donkey, camel and the occasional pedestrian. Additionally, she took on the challenging job of being a Logistics Officer for Latsis Shipping Company. She enjoyed being busy and knowing she had done something productive every day. In February of 1964, Sigmund and Leta were blessed with the birth of their first son, Russell Garth Potocki. The new couple took to parenthood with a zeal and Leta made certain both the men in her life were kept healthy and happy. During this time Leta taught herself how to re-upholster and refinish furniture, making the limited selection of furniture available, far more durable and attractive. In the midst of it all, world politics caught up with the family and in 1967, with the June Six Days War starting, Leta and Russell were evacuated on a USAF C-130 cargo plane with a 5 gallon bucket for a restroom, evacuated through Wheelus Air Base to Rome, Italy. The evacuation occurred so quickly that many of the families found themselves without funds or resources or even a place to stay or change of clothes, only women and children were allowed to evacuate. Leta did not let these minor issues frighten her though, she stood on Mobil Oil’s neck, making sure her family had the finest place to stay and an unlimited credit limit to feed and clothe her family. While other women were panicking and crying, Leta took charge and even helped another family that worked with Mobil get the same assistance. No was not an answer Leta would accept unless it was the answer she wanted.
In light of the evacuation, Mobile Oil decided the best place to put one of their premier geologists was in the North Sea, so they moved the family to England. Leta naturally learned to drive the streets of England and explore the best auction houses and antique stores. Her ability to recognize good items and haggle became a passion she excelled at. In January, 1970 Leta had a bout of stomach pains and suddenly the family grew again by one more son, Sigmund Richard Potocki. Leta ensured her both of her sons received the finest educations possible at the hands of the merciless instructors at Laverock and Bishop Sutton, Balcome Place.
In 1975, Mobile Oil had a new assignment for Sigmund, so the family bid fair well to England with a heavy heart, leaving many great friends behind. And shortly thereafter they found themselves in the midst of Dallas Texas. While Sigmund was sent on assignments to Africa, Australia and S. America, Leta dusted off her business skills and began working at MARC Research and then CNA Insurance. Not content to be very good at what she was doing, Leta went to Brookhaven College to sharpen her accounting and business math skills. It wasn’t long before her personal demand to do the job better, faster and smarter ended up in her gaining promotions that rivalled her husband’s own success. Leta argued and won the conversion of her department from word processors to full computers. A move that not only enhanced the ability of her department, but ensured they were ahead of the competition in the coming years. Leta was proud of what she was accomplishing and the entire family shared in that pride. Balancing her professional life with her marriage and the challenges of raising two “adventurous” sons would have been more than most women could handle, however Leta did it with love and patience no matter what window had to be replaced or car fixed.
In 1982, Sigmund retired from Mobile Oil and was offered the opportunity to establish one of the finest Applied Stratigraphy Labs in the United States with Union Texas Petroleum in Houston. While packing up and moving the family yet again was not on the top of Leta’s to do list, she saw the opportunity her husband had, so she backed him up completely. While he would be in Houston, Leta detailed their home in Dallas by hand to make sure it would be in pristine condition. Pushing the limits of the child labor laws, Leta made sure that the long nights of cleaning and packing were rewarded with ice cream.
Unfortunately, a few years after the move to Houston, health concerns caused Sigmund to step down from his position at Union Texas Petroleum. Leta oversaw his medical needs and it wasn’t too long until Sigmund and Leta put their personal skills together. Leta took classes From Rice University and Houston Community College sharpening her computer and geology knowledge, while Sigmund put his abilities to read, write and speak Russian, Polish, Latin, and Arabic to better use by accepting a position with the International Petroleum Advisors Corporation in 1989. The combination of abilities resulted in Sigmund being selected to head a research team that was dispatched to the interior of Siberia, Russia to determine the viability of the Trajinsk and West Varagon oil fields.
Looking over the information gathered Leta and Sigmund saw the need for an accurate and current translation of the former Soviet oil field logs. This spurred them on to create Potocki Geological, a company founded by Sigmund and Leta, which would correct and translate the old Soviet logs and give oil exploration in the region a much more accurate picture of the oil fields. A job she did so well that she was nominated and accepted into the Houston Geological Society.
In the midst of all of these adventures, Leta was blessed with the birth of her granddaughter, Nicole Taylor Potocki and her grandson, Sigmund Richard Potocki III. Unfortunately, while these should have been much happier times for the family, health issues resulted in Sigmund losing his larynx and with it, his voice. Eventually his mobility also deteriorated. Leta tended to his every need and desire, ensuring his sharp mind was never at a loss for vast amounts of historic or scientific materials to read and learn. Sigmund eventually succumbed to his ailments and passed away on Sunday, May 22, 2005. Leta had single handedly kept the family afloat financially while tending to her husband with never more than four hours sleep for herself…for five years.
With shear nerve and tenacity, Leta spent the next seven years watching over her sons and grandchildren while maintaining her home and reading books with a wild abandon. On April 1st, 2012, Leta found out milk does not always do a body good, when a gallon jug caused her to lose her footing resulting in a fall which broke her right hip. Of course, rather than call 911 which would end up with EMS breaking in a door, Leta pulled herself into the living room, assessed the injury and called her sons to come take her to the hospital. The following years saw Leta move in with her son Russell and enjoy the love of her sons and their families. Russell’s wife Christina saw to Leta’s every need, and both enjoyed ganging up on Russell for a good time. Russell and Sigmund tried to help as much as possible, but the real hero was Christina.
It must be understood that in order to create a woman as strong, intelligent and determined as Leta, it requires a family tree with over thirty American Revolutionary war fighters, the spirit of some of the only American Privateers, the combined family lines of the Shaws, Wilhelms, Cozzens, Kimballs, Eyers, Milners, Perkins, Hashams, Knauss, Klinks, Hawkins, Witneys, Bradleys, Masters, Gates and a family line reaching all the way back to William Wallace and the Sinclairs. This is not a woman you refer to simply as a housekeeper or loving wife; rather Leta was a passionately defiant adventurer, partner and mother.
In 2015, a combination of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease complicated by recurrent bouts of acute bronchitis slowly began to rob Leta of her ability to breath, finally culminating in her passing away in hospice care on July 20th, 2016. She lived to see her sons become successful and accomplished men and to see her grandchildren grow into young men and women.
Leta was preceded in death by her brothers Don Frank Wilhelm, Harold Leroy Wilhelm, Russell Garth Wilhelm, her sister Betty Blanche Wilhelm and her husband Sigmund Richard Potocki. She is survived by; her son Russell, wife Tina, Granddaughter Nicole, Grandson Paul, grandson Keith. Her son Sigmund, wife Jennifer, Grandson Sigmund and Granddaughter Naomi.
Funeral Services were held at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday, July 27, 2016 in Houston National Cemetery, so she could be with the love of her life. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions to Air Warrior Courage Foundation be considered.
Leta will be missed and remembered by all who knew and loved her.
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