May Lewis Poetter, 94, instrumental in establishing SCAD

The Savannah College of Art & Design started from scratch as a close-knit family enterprise, and May Poetter was one of the pillars that supported it.

Dr. Paul Bradley of Savannah, former SCAD board chairman, recalled that May and Paul Poetter had just built their dream retirement home in Atlanta in 1977 when their daughter Paula Wallace, now SCAD’s president, asked for their assistance in establishing a not-for-profit art school in Savannah.

“May told me later that she and Paul decided they would do anything to assist Paula,” he said. “So they sold their house, relocated to Savannah and not only chipped in financially to help get SCAD started, they pitched in with her background in education and his in finance, playing vital roles at the school for many years afterward.”

In a little more than three decades, SCAD has grown to become what is reputed to be the largest and most comprehensive art school in the world, with more than 11,000 students, 700 faculty members, campuses in Savannah, Midtown Atlanta, Hong Kong and Lacoste, France, plus an online learning program.

Mrs. Wallace said her mother became SCAD’s first admissions officer, counseling prospective and incoming students, eventually becoming vice president for admissions. For newcomers to SCAD, her mother was a warm and welcoming first point of contact at the college, she said.

Mrs. Poetter remained active at SCAD throughout her 60s, 70s and 80s, serving on its board of trustees for many years. She mentored students and even graduates long after they began their own careers. She advised teachers on methodology, drawing on her experiences as an Atlanta public school teacher and administrator.

“Mother considered herself a lifetime educator,” Mrs. Wallace said.

May Lewis Poetter, 94, died of heart failure Wednesday at her Savannah home. Her funeral will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at Skidaway Island United Methodist Church, Savannah. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to SCAD’s May and Paul Poetter Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 3146, Savannah, GA 31402. Fox & Weeks funeral directors of Savannah is in charge of arrangements.

Born and reared in Collins, Miss., Mrs. Poetter earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s from Emory University.

Mrs. Poetter started her educational career in Atlanta as a teacher at Cascade Elementary before moving to the Atlanta system’s Area 3 office, where she coordinated the teaching of language arts in the elementary, middle and high schools of Buckhead. She wrote two language arts textbooks that were published by Houghton Mifflin and used around the United States.

Fran Hardwich Jones of Montgomery was a Northside High teacher in the late 1960s and said Mrs. Poetter gave her the administrative support she needed to institute innovative approaches that led to impressive reading gains for her students.

Mrs. Poetter was an avid reader herself, Mrs. Wallace said, and frequently quoted from great literature and from Scriptures.

During the nearly 40 years she lived in Atlanta, she taught Bible study and Sunday school classes at West End Baptist Church and Beecher Hills Baptist Church. In Savannah, she offered guidance and comfort to SCAD students through the school’s Christian Student Fellowship.

Her husband of 64 years, Paul Poetter, died in 2001, and a daughter, Pam Poetter, died last October.

In addition to Mrs. Wallace, survivors include seven grandchildren.