Joseph Norman Cotter, educator and tournament chess player, dies at 91

Joseph Norman Cotter, 91, a high school principal and chess tournament player, died Sunday May 23 in the retirement community of Ware Presbyterian Village in Oxford from advanced dementia.

Whether it was foreign languages, demanding pursuits like chess and bridge, or running an elite academic institution, Mr. Cotter was in his element.

“He was always looking for intellectual challenges,” said his son, Christopher. “He had a unique mind for logic. He picked up things. He was just like that. He had a gift.

Born in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, he was the only son of Joseph A. and Charlotte Depermentier Cotter, owners of a popular restaurant, the Cotter Café.

Mr. Cotter graduated fifth in his class from Central High School. He received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania. He went on to obtain a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in French from Pennsylvania State University.

After graduation, he served as a lieutenant in the National Guard.

For his life’s work, Mr. Cotter pursued a career in education. He went to work for the elite Tatnall School, a private school in Wilmington. He was head of the language department then director of the high school for 28 years.

Fluent in French and Spanish, he has taught French at the University of Georgia and Washington and at Lee University in Virginia.

Mr. Cotter also had an aptitude for competitive games.

“He started playing chess when he was around 13 years old,” his son said. “He wasn’t very good. He read a lot about it, he played a lot in high school and he just got better and better. “

Mr Cotter was part of Penn’s squad when they won the Ivy League Championship, and he has become a top amateur player on the tournament circuit, according to his son.

He took up the challenge.

“My dad was the kind of person who reviewed his games, read different books about chess masters and grandmasters to understand their tactics and moves,” Cotter said. “Then he would go back to work. “

It was during one of the tournaments in France that he met Colette M. Legendre, who would become his wife. They were married for 57 years until her death in 2017.

“He was proud of his accomplishment and his efforts,” their son said, “but probably the main thing he was proud of was meeting my mother, who was a beautiful French woman, in 1958 in France and marrying her. two years later after chasing her everywhere.

Mr. Cotter also became a tournament bridge player, something he continued until his later years as it didn’t require the many trips chess took. As with chess, he was largely self-taught.

“He just read about it, and played and learned,” his son said.

He became a successful competitive backgammon player in much the same way.

Mr. Cotter was also sociable.

“He was an accomplished person,” his son said. “He would talk to anyone, make them laugh, find humor in situations, give them advice and make them love them. He never bragged about himself. He let his accomplishments speak for themselves.

Besides his son, Mr. Cotter is survived by a grandchild and his daughter-in-law.

A memorial service was held for Mr. Cotter on Friday June 4th. Interment will be private.


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