Robert Aitken Potts Jr. of West Tisbury died at home on Saturday night, Oct. 11, with his wife of 50 years, Marjory, beside him. He was 84. The cause was complications from a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

A consummate journalist, he was also in his well-lived life a filmmaker, a master craftsman whose joinery in the fine furniture he made was the envy of many a carpenter, a serious bike racer and builder of bikes, model boats and planes, a linguist, painter, photographer, actor, a superb cook and a unique and terrific dancer.

He was born August 28, 1930 in Manhattan, the only child of Lucile Rankin (Ranks) Potts and Robert Aitken Potts, who themselves were a talented couple of broad interests. Lucile, an artist and a pioneer in art therapy, was the first woman instructor appointed to her alma mater, the Art Institute of Chicago in 1915, when male teachers were going to serve in the war. His father, Glasgow born and a Scotsman to his core, served as a medic with the Royal Marines at Gallipoli. After the war, he lived in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa and finally New York. He worked as a chemist (pharmacist), and years later became a marine photographer and dealer in marine books, working for, among others, the Cunard Line, documenting all their ships in and out of New York Harbor, often taking Robert Jr. along, on the tugs that led the great ships into the harbor.

In 1932, with the Depression hurting the family, they moved to England where his father found work, first in Bath and then Twickenham, outside London. Never owning a car, they biked throughout the English countryside, with Robbie on his mother’s carrier until he could ride on his own for some distance at about seven.

In 1939, with England about to go to war, they were pressured by American relatives to come back to the states. Robert’s father, a volunteer air raid warden and loyal British veteran, was most unhappy at leaving his country at such a time, but they arrived in New York in June 1939 on the MV Georgic.

Robert was nine and very soon sailing his model boats in Central Park. He was fascinated by the bike racers who would whiz by him. Bike racing was not an American sport but he knew it was his sport, and by age 14 he was riding in their club. The members were, as Robert told it, almost all “French and Italian waiters,” tough and fiercely competitive. Somehow, they accepted this very English, nice kid, and he remained a member of the Century Road Club from about 1946, racing every weekend he was able, until he moved to the Vineyard in 1981.

His life was diverse, from his French and Italian bike racing competitors, to his very liberal, quintessential New York friends with whom he attended the Little Red Schoolhouse and Elizabeth Irwin High School in Greenwich Village, a school founded on John Dewey’s progressive philosophy of education. He praised the way he was taught there and remembered visiting a coal mine in Pennsylvania to see how workers worked and where the stuff that powered the world came from. He recalled hearing for the first time the Venetian composer Monteverdi’s madrigals sung by the chorus at Elizabeth Irwin and feeling as though his heart would burst from the wondrousness of it. He developed an interest in the origins of language from his mother who read widely on the subject; he was further taken into the subject by his best friend Pete’s father, Leo Gould, who emigrated to America from Russia by way of Shanghai and who introduced Mah Jong to this country. Leo would sit with the boys in a cafeteria in New York’s Garment Center and teach them Chinese characters and the Russian alphabet. Robert found his field and went on to Columbia University where he graduated with special honors in Russian Studies.

Then drafted into the Army, Private Potts was told he could spend a year at the Department of Defense language school in Monterey, Calif., to study Russian! It was considered a perk, although the draftee would then have to spend an extra year in the army. But he would be guaranteed to be based in Germany.

Robert responded that he was fluent in Russian and it would be stupid to send him to Monterey. A great waste of the Army’s money. The officer in charge of the assignment told him he was making a big mistake, that not going to Monterey meant he would probably be shipped to fight the war in Korea.

The private took his chances, was sent to Germany and became a corporal with Military Intelligence. He taught himself German and had the time of his life. He liked to tell his children he was a spy, but his main assignment was driving around Soviet military defectors and serving as their translator. The only drama he experienced was when McCarthy aides Roy Cohn and G. David Schine were coming to Army bases in Europe to root out any evidence of communism in the army, including materials in the base libraries. Robert’s commanding officer told him to find and clear out every book about Marx, Lenin or anything communist and hide them. Corporal Potts set about the task, reshelving the works after Cohn and Schine had done their search.

Thinking he’d be an academic, he started a graduate program in linguistics at the University of Munich, but along the way he met an editor with United Press, who offered him a job in Paris. Robert was on the next train and found himself managing the Iberian desk — Portugual — where it was high drama if he did not get the soccer returns posted fast enough. He became fluent in French. After another stint with United Press in London, he returned to New York.

For some years following, he was an editor and translator with the Current Digest of the Soviet Press, based at Columbia University, which provided in English the news from Pravda, Izvestia and many other publications. From there he went on to become news director of WBAI, a small FM radio station, powerful in its independent and wide-ranging programming, much like NPR today. There he met Marjory, who became his assistant and a partner in much of their work for the rest of his life. When Channel 13, New York city’s public television station, was setting up its first news program, Robert was hired as one of their two reporters and later anchored a show called World at Ten. For the next 15 years, he became a well-known New York reporter, working for CBS, NBC and on occasion for NPR, covering everything from politics to education to art and food. He was given his own spot on the nightly news shows, Robert Potts’ New York, on which he did quirky features in his own inimitable witty and erudite style. Andy Warhol once commented in Esquire magazine that his great pleasure was “watching Robert Potts eat on television.”

But more than features, Robert loved local news. He loved to do stories that focused on neighborhood affairs, he knew people cared about and wanted to hear about what happened close to home, village or city.

Robert and Marjory had been summer renters in West Tisbury since 1971. In 1978, they built their house a mile from the village center, planning to live there some day. In 1981 they came to stay.

Marjory had in mind that Robert would make furniture and she might run a restaurant combining food, poetry and art, but Robert, luckily, did not have that in mind. By chance, radio station WMVY was starting up. He became news director but had to start immediately, before the family’s planned move in July. Leaving the car at home with Marjory, Robert came that May and covered Island stories using his bike for transportation (WMVY would not spring for a car).

He learned quickly about Island politics. They were feistier than New York. He called his wife and said ecstatically, “This little Island is made up of six Baltic nations. They have border wars. They are crazy.” And wonderful.

When Marjory moved to the Island with their children, luckily for Robert, she worked for the Cape Cod Times as an Island reporter. He had virtually no staff and she would feed him her stories, but not let him air them until she’d gotten them in print. A year later, they decided to do something they’d long talked about — filmmaking. Robert had production knowledge from his television experience and they were both writers, full of ideas. But when they realized their efforts to sell to PBS or cable (in its infancy) would not help send their children to college, they focused on educational and teacher training work. For 25 years, they produced films, many of them shot in whole or part on the Island, ranging from their first effort, a short documentary about the world-renowned Emerson String Quartet to a major documentary on Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor. In between were extensive series on teaching children with learning disabilities and others on storytelling, art and Shakespeare. As the years went on, Robert’s interest in local politics increased. In March 2000 he began publishing The Broadside, a single sheet, two-sided newspaper with no advertising, famously selling for “One Thin Dime.” In it he wrote about West Tisbury politics and anything else on Island or in the world that he thought should be told. He devoted many stories to media affairs, making fun of something the Gazette or the Martha’s Vineyard Times did or did not do. When his wife suggested he was too hard on them, he replied, “ I love those papers, they do a great job, that’s why I have to tell them when they don’t!”

The Broadside became widely read as hundreds of people waited each week to read Robert’s humorous and satirical take on the town and everything else. It was a weekly for 12 years, in the last year a sometime weekly as Robert’s health declined. At 428 issues, it ceased publication in June 2012.

Robert is survived by his wife, Marjory Ann, whom he married in July 1964 and with whom he danced at any chance for the next 50 years. (In August, at Memorial Wharf in Edgartown, when she was dancing to the Bluefish with their nine-year-old granddaughter Ellie Marie, Robert pulled himself up with great effort and whispered to Marjory, “I want to dance,” and so they did.)

He is also survived by his children, Oliver Aitken Potts and wife Christina of Arlington, Va.; Phoebe Bess Potts and husband Jeffrey Marshall of Gloucester; and grandchildren, Aitken, Owen and Ellie Potts and Lemi Moses Marshall.

Robert’s ashes will be placed in the heart of the town he loved so much. There will be a private graveside service on Nov. 9, at 3 p.m. at the West Tisbury Cemetery. A memorial celebration of his life will be at the West Tisbury Grange at 3:30 p.m.

Donations in his memory may be made to the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund, Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, 130 Center street, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568; The Compassion Fund of Hope Hospice, 765 Attucks Lane, Hyannis MA 02601; or give the wonderful gift of volunteering for Vineyard Village at Home, whose members so helped Robert and Marjory over the past difficult years (; 508-693-3038).