JARS v54n2 - In Memoriam: Bruce A. Briggs

In Memoriam: Bruce A. Briggs

Bruce Briggs died Feb. 4, 2000, at his home in Olympia, Washington, where he lived all 78 years of his life and developed the world renowned Briggs Nursery, Inc., begun by his father, Orson, in 1912 as a fruit farm.

Bruce is survived by his wife, Doris; two sons, Ted L. Briggs and Gary E. Briggs, the current CEO of Briggs Nursery, Inc.; and five grandchildren.

Today, Briggs Nursery is a wholesale grower of general nursery stock, specializing in ericaceous plants in containers and tissue cultured liners, including rhododendrons, with over 100 acres of container and field ornamental nursery stock. Under Bruce's leadership with the help of Dr. Wilbur Anderson of the Western Washington Experiment Station, the nursery pioneered the use of tissue culture for propagating woody ornamental plants, and Bruce grew to be a leader in the nursery industry, receiving many of its prestigious awards.

But Bruce's contributions went far beyond his professional life. He is known to members of the American Rhododendron Society as a generous contributor not only of plants for sales and conventions but of time and energy, at home and abroad, as he, along with his wife, Doris, spread the good word about rhododendrons and the ARS. The ARS honored him with the Bronze Medal in 1984, the Silver Medal in 1987, and the Gold Medal in 1994 for his many areas of endeavor and service: development of tissue culture, support of plant propagators and rhododendron growers, and sponsoring of interns at the nursery.

In a letter to Doris Briggs from Washington Governor Gary Locke, the governor recognized Bruce for "his dedicated involvement in many civic organizations and worthwhile causes," noting his donations of land for a YMCA and gift of magnolias for the capitol campus in Olympia.

Bruce Briggs was born in 1922 and graduated from Olympia High School in 1938, after which he worked on the family fruit farm with his father. He served in the Army in Alaska as surgical technician from 1942 to 1945. On his return to the farm, he converted it into an ornamental plant nursery, introducing innovative growing techniques, including tissue culture.

Although his awards are too numerous to include here, among them, besides the ARS medals, are the International Award of Honor in 1992 from the International Plant Propagators' Society, the Service Award/Legislative Committee Chair in 1989 from the Washington State Nursery & Landscape Association, and the Pacific Coast Nurserymen Outstanding Service Award in 1979 from the Washington State Nursery Association. For community service, he was given the Employer of the Year Award in 1985 from the Washington Association of School Administrators and the They Made a Difference Award from the Daily Olympian . He contributed the Bruce A. Briggs Research Grant of $25,000 to the Silver Circle-Horticultural Research Institute. His membership in professional and non-professional organizations number more than twenty.

Through the tissue culture technique, he made more readily available to the public the rhododendron hybrids of David Leach, Hans Hachmann, Ned Brockenbrough, Harold Greer, Warren Berg, Peter Cox, Joe Davis, Bill Whitney, and P. M. A. Tigerstedt.

Bruce was also an avid supporter of the Rhododendron Species Foundation, providing transport of plants from Oregon to the present site in Federal Way and donating polyethylene growing houses and plants. His donations of plant favors at ARS conventions are legendary, as are his contributions to shows, displays, and gardens. He is also fondly remembered by Canadian ARS chapters for his generosity and enthusiasm.

Always active at the local level of the ARS, especially at his own Olympia Chapter, he shared cuttings, pollen, plants, and information at chapter meetings. Bruce Briggs will be remembered for his innovative nursery techniques but, even more, for his generosity in sharing all he knew to professional and amateur horticulturists alike, in countries around the world.