Joseph Curtis Briggs ’48 passed away on January 22, 2021, at the age of 90.
Joe attended The Harley School until 1945 and was considered a member of the Class of 1948. He was one of a long line of Briggs family members to attend The Harley School: sisters Barbara Briggs Trimble ’39 and Catherine Briggs Pratt ’41, children James Briggs ’72, Judy Briggs von Bucher ’74, and Susan Briggs Kitchen ’76 (married to Donald Kitchen ’70), cousin Liz Curtis Cassidy ’47, nephews David Trimble ’71 and Mike Trimble ’70, and most recently his granddaughter Sally Kitchen ’12 and great grandson Jamie Briggs ’35.
As an alumnus and parent, Joe always wanted to be involved with The Harley School. He was a member of the Board of Trustees from 1970 to 1973 (as was his mother, Ruth Curtis Briggs, from 1937 to 1939), chair of the Annual Giving Program from 1970 to 1971, and board president from 1971 to 1973. In the fall of 1984, he came to Harley to share the extraordinary experiences he and his wife, Nancy, had had while sailing across the Atlantic. Over the years, Joe and Nancy were regular attendees at school gatherings both in Rochester and in Florida, eager to hear updates about Harley and connect with former classmates.
The Briggs family has always had a focus on making a difference in their community, and for more than 50 years their support has made a tremendous impact on The Harley School. They have been annual supporters of the Harley Fund since the 1960s. They were one of the first to commit to The Harley School Teaching for Excellence Fund in the 1970s, and they also made a substantial gift to Harley’s endowment in the 1980s. Joe and Nancy were supportive of Harley’s Facilities Improvement Campaign in the 2000s and the building of The Commons, establishing the Briggs Center for Civic Engagement. When the idea of the Center was proposed, the vision was to move the students toward experiential service learning, integrating reflection and sustained engagement in that work throughout the school. Since it opened, the Center has influenced new curriculum regarding democratic engagement (including dissent) and brought an experiential service learning component to the students. It is also often host to the community Commons Series, which touches these issues and more. The Briggs Center is the perfect embodiment of Joe and his commitment to civic responsibility and engagement.
From its inception, Joe and Nancy have been prodigious supporters of Horizons at Harley, a critical summer program that provides six weeks of continued learning to Rochester City School students at Harley. Horizons at Harley opened its doors in the summer of 1995, and thanks to a gift from the Briggs family, the program was able to open a second section with spaces for an additional 12 students each year for the next three years. When learning about the Horizons program, Joe was interested out of concern for the education of Rochester City School students, but he also recognized that Harley students needed to learn about inequality and develop relationships across race and class. With this in mind, Joe encouraged Harley students to get involved, and that summer, following his recommendation, 14 Harley students volunteered. Harley students are still a large part of the program today. Joe and Nancy wanted to make a Harley education available for more students, so in addition to their support of Horizons, they also sponsored a Harley scholarship aimed at supporting Horizons students interested in attending Harley. The Horizons at Harley program was so successful that talk of growing the program beyond the walls of Harley began. Joe and Nancy were huge proponents of the idea and once again stepped up to initiate the expansion of the program in several locations in the Greater Rochester community to support RCSD students’ summer learning.
Joe Briggs has been an inspirational leader. His extraordinary commitments to The Harley School and Horizons at Harley are part of the long-standing tradition of community support in Rochester and will never be forgotten. Joe will be greatly missed.
From Ward Ghory (Head of School, 2013–18): I met Joe and Nancy Briggs at a small get-to-know-you dinner at the home of Peter Willsea ’72 and Deb Schaller Willsea ’73 during the summer before my first school year at Harley. In the buffet line by the dining table, Joe and I continued a conversation we had just started about Horizons. A gentle giant of a man, Joe leaned over to me and confided, “As much as Horizons offers the kids from the Rochester schools, I’m just as concerned about what Horizons can do for kids at Harley who have not yet confronted the deep inequalities and racism in our country.”
I had not expected this level of urgency and insight in the first minute of meeting this long-time friend of Harley, and I was thrilled to experience it. Joe and Nancy were the best kind of school supporters, generous with their values as well as their resources, and committed to the personal development of our students with no thought of recognition for themselves. I loved to catch them on the phone in Florida and brightened to see them around Rochester. Their warmth and spirit clicked on immediately; I felt like I was always given a seat by the fire in their living room. It was easy to talk to them about recent doings in the Briggs Center for Civic Engagement. They were pulling for The Commons to fulfill its promise and mission. They understood the need for mindfulness. They gravitated to the outreach of The Commons Speakers Series. They loved hearing about morning assemblies and play rehearsals and blood drives and student climate action. They admired the teachers who worked throughout Harley. Rights and Responsibilities was their kind of class. I am grateful I had the opportunity to show Joe and Nancy Briggs that Horizons and Harley shared their concern for our country. Their support inspired our best work.
From Paul Schiffman (Head of School, 1999-2006): Joe was a champion for children. My fondest memories of Joe are observing him visiting the Horizon students. He engaged in lively conversations showing genuine interest for each student. Joe was happy that Harley had made the Horizons program a key component of the school community, and he believed that it demonstrated the soul of our school. He was also proud of the Harley students who volunteered every summer.
Joe attended Harley in his formative years, however he completed his studies elsewhere. Once, in a conversation with Joe, I shared with him that even though he did not graduate from Harley, he did have a Harley Heart. Joe will be remembered for making a positive imprint on our world.
From Valerie Myntti P ’09 (Interim Head of School, 2012-2013): I met Joe Briggs while working in Harley’s admissions office and as Interim Head of School. We attended meetings about Horizons, the Briggs Center, and occasionally Harley’s general fundraising efforts. Joe was always a huge part of the conversation. Sometimes it was gabbing at a conference table with lots of folks, or with a much smaller group over a lunch out in Pittsford somewhere, or at a dinner table at someone’s home.
His passing is a huge loss for everyone who knew him. Rarely in life is one lucky enough to meet someone as decent and as honorable as Joe Briggs. He made me want to be a better person. I know that sounds corny, but it is true. When I think of Joe Briggs, these are the characteristics that immediately spring to mind:
–Gentleman, who exuded kindness to
all he met
–Enthusiastic, a quality that made him seem many decades younger
–An Inspired and Original Thinker, who generated imaginative, fresh ideas throughout his life
–Generous, in every way imaginable
–Committed to Making His Community a Better Place for All, as demonstrated by his life of service
May Joe Briggs’s “next chapter” be a continuation of his extraordinary adventure. We will miss him.
From Tim Cottrell, Head of School, 2006–2012: Joe Briggs was admirable in every way. A generous philanthropist who, with Nancy, carefully considered how best to support projects and programs that aligned with their values and worked to move our world forward in these directions. Harley’s Horizons program benefited greatly from his appreciation and belief in its promise for underserved youth. In the process of fundraising for The Commons, Joe and Nancy invited me to see them in Florida to discuss the project. It was one of the first situations in which I was going to ask a Harley alumnus for a large amount of money, and Joe had shared with me during our first meeting years before that he and Nancy supported things that had a direct impact on people and that they did not give the same priority to institutions. I was there to see them about an institutional gift. At their home, we shared food and conversation, and I was stumbling to get to the ask. This was apparent to Joe and Nancy because they, with great kindness, asked me, “isn’t there something you want to ask us about?” I found myself on their couch, sitting between them sharing the vision for The Commons and a Center for Civic Engagement. These two kind and generous people opened the conversation for me, listened to the concept and subsequently agreed to support the institution in its creation. I can’t imagine a time more important than now for every school to commit to teaching civic engagement, and like so many things Joe and Nancy have supported, their commitments will directly and positively affect the lives and education of many young people well into the future. One definition of education is that it is the process of passing power from one generation to another. Thank you, Joe for the wisdom and heart to embody this for so