Tribute to Albert William Briggs, Jr.
1937 - 2021
By H. Louise Amick '69
Associate Professor of Mathematics, Emerita
From his home state of Kansas, Albert Briggs came to Washington College via Harvard, the University of California at Berkeley, and Peace Corps service in Malaysia. He retired thirty-five years later having spent his entire college teaching career at the college he loved dearly. He is one of Washington College’s unsung heroes.
I met Dr. Briggs in 1967 when he was the professor for my Abstract Algebra course. It was in that class that I began to love mathematical theory. That love grew as I learned through further classes with him that mathematical writing can be elegant and that a mathematical proof can be beautiful. By the time I graduated, I truly understood why my degree was a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics. Dr. Briggs could be intimidating with his brilliance and his demand for rigor but he seemed to possess an infinite supply of patience.
When I returned to teach at Washington College in 1990, Dr. Briggs, then Chair of the Department of Mathematics, was my supervisor and mentor but he quickly became Al, my colleague and dear friend. Through that friendship I learned that Al loved classical music but I didn’t find out until much later that he was a gifted violinist. In fact, it wasn’t until a chance encounter one Tuesday night at Boston Market in Newark, Delaware, that I learned he played the violin. We had dinner together and he told me he drove to Newark weekly to practice and perform with the Newark Symphony Orchestra.
Al loved to teach and he loved to learn. During his thirty-five years at Washington College, he taught overloads thirty-six times and he took only two leaves of absence: one to complete the work for his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and one to study computer science and retool so that he could guide the department’s transition to the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. For years after his retirement in 2002, he continued to attend our department’s seminars and to contribute by questioning and advising students on their presentations.
Al Briggs left an indelible mark on his students, his colleagues, and Washington College. I’m honored to have known him.