We thought he’d live forever’

Seth Tupper

Seth Tupper

The last time I saw Dr. Hilton M. Briggs was Friday, Nov. 16. I wish we had stopped to talk, but we just said hello and passed each other by like we’d done so many mornings before. It was 6 a.m. and Dr. Briggs, 88, was headed for the track above Frost Arena. It’s a ritual he’s followed ever since I’ve known him. He wore a pale yellow sweat suit as he motored around the track, pumping his arms through the air and staring directly ahead. As usual, my workout that morning was shorter than his. My friend Zach Lutz and I headed out the door as Dr. Briggs, a man exactly four times our age, kept plodding around the track.

Rarely a morning went by this fall that Zach and I didn’t make a comment about the incredible tenacity of the man we both admired. On this morning, like so many others, we shook our heads in amazement.

As I said, that was the last time I saw Dr. Briggs. The first time I saw him was during the winter of 1998. I’ve long since forgotten the exact date, but I’ll never forget my first impressions of the man. At the time I was a candidate for membership in FarmHouse Fraternity, an organization Briggs had joined in 1933. I’d seen his name on the campus library and on various plaques in our fraternity house, but hadn’t given much thought to the man himself. That was until he appeared in the living room of the FarmHouse chapter he’d helped to found at SDSU in 1966. Upon his arrival, everyone in the room stood up. I had no idea who he was, but immediately sensed his importance and followed the lead of my fraternity brothers. The next thing I knew, the old man had launched a lengthy narrative about his recent trip to the Galapagos Islands and the unusual behavior of the birds there. Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed. A few minutes later he told us all his name and the purpose of his visit ? he was there to scold us for our low grades and poor activities. I later learned that Briggs had made several such visits to our house over the years. Whenever the active chapter needed a wake-up call, Briggs got the call from concerned alumni.

Between those two meetings, I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Briggs on two occasions and speaking with him at numerous social functions. I grew to revere a man who was doggedly committed to excellence, and who demanded excellence from those around him. His accomplishments were numerous. Besides attaining the rank of president at SDSU, he authored a textbook, encyclopedia section and over 40 journal articles; he was continually involved in community organizations and participated in mission trips all over the world. He presided over a student body at SDSU that grew from just under 4,000 to over 6,000. During his tenure as president, campus landmarks like the student union, football stadium, library and the HPER Center were erected.

Dr. Briggs packed more life into his 88 years than seemed humanly possible. He remained sharp-witted and physically fit to the end. As my friend and fraternity brother Zach Lutz said, “We thought he’d live forever.”

Sadly, Dr. Briggs couldn’t live forever, but his legacy certainly will. I’ll always remember him as I last saw him that Friday morning on the track ? moving ever forward, never looking back, getting the job done.

-Seth Tupper

Collegian Correspondent