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Spokane’s Iron Man Has Stats That Put Ripken To Shame

It probably would take the Second Coming or World War III to keep Cal Ripken Jr. from becoming baseball’s new Iron Man.

Ripken, who plays shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles, will tie the legendary Lou Gehrig today and pass him Wednesday with 2,131 consecutive games played.

Yet, for all the hype, Ripken and Gehrig combined are not in the same ballpark as Spokane’s Iron Man.

Consider the incredible stats of Gordon Potter:

The 65-year-old retired last week from a Valley electronics plant with a perfect attendance record for 26 years and five months.

That’s well more than 6,000 workdays at the Johnson Matthey Co. without so much as an hour off for sickness or playing hooky.

He’ll never get his face on a bubble-gum card, but major-leaguers like Potter are the reason America celebrates Labor Day.

Pampered pros like Ripken are paid millions to play seasonal sports that give them more time off than on.

Other than holidays and regular vacations, Potter showed up day after day wearing his game face. He worked every shift without complaint, from graveyard to swing, many times 12 hours at a stretch.

No cushy office with a padded swivel chair for this slugger. As leader of the equipment-cluttered rolling room, Potter pressed precious and semiprecious metals into slivers thinner than human hairs.

“If you work for somebody, you owe them something,” explains Potter, a Spokane Valley resident who learned the importance of holding a job as a kid growing up in the starvation days of the Great Depression.

Potter is a powerfully built guy with a broad face and a mellifluous voice. He greets strangers with a vicelike handshake and a warm, relaxed smile.

“There isn’t a free ride in life, although so many people expect one,” he adds. “It’s integrity that counts. If people can’t rely on you, well, you don’t have much of anything.”

Sadly, that kind of work ethic is dying out.

A recent national survey reported in USA Today showed that “since 1992, absenteeism - calling in on short notice to take the day off - is up 14.1 percent and costs as much as $688 per employee each year.”

Johnson Matthey, a British-owned firm, allows employees up to 80 hours of sick leave a year. By not taking any, Potter saved the company more than a full year’s pay.

He was a rock, a shining example to coworkers - and don’t think his former bosses aren’t grateful.

“It’s probably an achievement nobody will do here again,” says Mike Miller, Johnson Matthey’s acting general manager. “Everyone has those days when you get up and say, ‘There’s just no way,’ and go back to bed.”

At his retirement party, Potter received the usual parting gifts along with an unexpected bonus: an all-expenses-paid round trip for two anywhere he and his wife, Gerri, want to go.

“We’re thinking of New Zealand,” says Potter, who adds that he never tried for a record. “It just came along.”

Nobody, of course, could hope for perfect attendance without being blessed with extraordinarily good health.

Potter comes from hardy stock. His father died at age 94; his older brothers are still well.

Before he joined Johnson Matthey in 1969, Potter put in 20 years with the U.S. Air Force. A total of four days off for a hernia operation in the 1950s is the only thing marring perfect attendance there.

So what will Potter do with no clock to punch?

A devout churchgoer, Potter loves to minister to nursing home residents. He collects model railroad trains and carves wood. The Potters also care for their two young granddaughters.

“Yes, I’ll miss it,” says Spokane’s Iron Man of the job he left behind. “But I’ve got a lot to keep me busy.”

Too bad there’s no hall of fame for the working stiff.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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