Minnesota higher education and the St. Cloud region lost a valued leader Monday when St. Cloud State University President Earl H. Potter III died behind the wheel of his Toyota 4Runner on Interstate 694 in Brooklyn Center while en route to the Twin Cities.

Potter had been a leading force at the largest of Minnesota’s seven state universities since assuming its presidency in 2007. At age 69, he recently agreed to a new contract that would have kept him in office until 2019 — reflecting both his love for St. Cloud State and the satisfaction that institution’s constituencies had with him. Those constituencies included state lawmakers in St. Paul, who began a bonding bill hearing in St. Paul on Tuesday with a moment of silence in Potter’s memory.

It’s no surprise to those who knew Potter that his last mission concerned the betterment of St. Cloud State. He was on his way to a meeting with the school’s foundation board chair when he lost control of his vehicle. Potter was a tireless worker who believed wholeheartedly in the value of positive relationships between the academy and the community it serves. He was involved not only in campus life but also in the St. Cloud area’s economic development and in municipal improvement projects. Though reserved by nature, he was also an affable and approachable figure, well-known and admired both on and off campus.

Potter did much to give St. Cloud and its university one of the healthiest town-and-gown connections in the country, St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis told the St. Cloud Times on Tuesday. The relationships Potter forged and the program and facilities enhancements he championed are already translating into an economic advantage for central Minnesota businesses, which look to St. Cloud State both for talent and solutions to business problems. That advantage will endure and is an important part of Potter’s legacy. It’s one of many reasons that his loss is keenly and widely felt.