August 23, 2012
Granddaughters of Pheasant Founder to 'Honor Our Heritage' at 2012 Antique Fair
Descendents of the founder of the Pheasant aircraft will be in Memphis this weekend for their first glimpse of the historic plane during the Antique Fair festivities.
Sisters, Sharon Briggs Morey and Pat Briggs Read, will visit Memphis during the Antique Fair to view firsthand some of their grandfather's handiwork in the form of the recently returned Pheasant Aircraft, manufactured by Lee Briggs in the late 1920s.
The Pheasant aircraft is undeniably a significant part of the history of Memphis, Missouri. The same can be said for the role the antique biplane plays in the genealogy of two California sisters.
Pat Briggs Read and Sharon Briggs Morey are the granddaughters of Lee R. Briggs, the founder of the historic aviation company that put Memphis on the national map back in the late 1920s.
But without the efforts of one of the Pheasant airplane restoration committee members, these two ladies may never have had the opportunity they will receive during the 2012 Scotland County Antique Fair. The sisters will be traveling to Memphis to view such a key piece of their family's history.
While the committee was hard at work raising the money to purchase one of only three remaining Pheasant aircraft, and making plans to return the bi-plane to its birthplace in Memphis, Stan Myers was busy restoring a related piece of history.
With the plane purchase secured, Myers turned his attention to restoring the linage that went along with the company's founder, and immediately started to search for descendents of Lee Briggs.
Through some genealogical research, Myers was able to identify San Antonio, TX as one of the final stops for Lee's son, Dan Briggs, and his wife and family. He found the 2009 obituary for Dan's wife and in the newspaper he found a tribute to her from one of the family's neighbors, and close family friends.
Myers contacted the family, and told them the story of the airplane and why he wanted to reach out to the two daughters. Stan left his contact information with the former neighbors, who ultimately passed on the information to Pat.
"I first heard of the restoration project through Stan who I'm very grateful went to great lengths to find us," Pat said. "Thank you, Stan Myers, for relentlessly trying to find Lee Briggs' surviving family members and thus giving us the privilege of seeing what you all have done."
Pat in turn contacted her sister, Sharon.
"I first learned of the Pheasant project when my sister called to tell me about Stan Myers contacting her," she said. "This was just before they brought the Pheasant home. I had known of the Pheasant but was unaware that any planes were still in existence."
Since the initial conversation, Myers has maintained regular correspondence with the sisters, who now both reside in California. Initially the idea was discussed to attend the welcome home festivities held in April for the plane's return but that idea was shelved for a later reunion that would allow the plane to be fully restored and on display.
'We had talked about the girls coming back to be here when the plane first arrived back home in Memphis," Myers said. "But it was partially dismantled for transportation from New York. Now it is back together. A picture of the two granddaughters in the plane's cockpit of the Pheasant will be a great addition to the historic display."
The two ladies are the lone descendents of the plane-maker, Lee Briggs. His daughter, Anna Lee, never married.
Pat and her husband Steve live in Huntington Beach, CA. Sharon and her husband Kent reside in Redlands, CA.
Their father, Dan Briggs was a 1940 graduate of West Point and a career military man, so the family lived many places in the United States and overseas.
"As best as I can remember, I've been to Memphis twice," Pat said. "Once when I was seven years old when we were on a change of station from Boise, ID to Bad Kissingen Germany. I don't remember Memphis, just being in Kirksville visiting some distant cousins to whom my dad was particularly close, the Parcells. Their daughter Frances Norman is still living in Kirksville."
Sharon recalls a couple of trips to Memphis, one before Pat's birth, when Sharon thought she was four or five years old.
The second trip left several lasting memories for Sharon, as she recalls her father driving the family around the town, pointing on landmarks such as the courthouse and the Ford dealership where the Pheasant airplanes were constructed.
Pat also made a much more memorable return trip to Memphis, traveling with her parents to attend the dedication ceremony for the Briggs-Smith Memorial Airport in 1967.
"My dad was really pleased to go," Pat recalled. "He was very proud of his father and that an airport was being named after him. It was a happy time for all of us."
Sharon had married and left home by the time of the airport dedication but said she recalls hearing about her parents and aunt Anna Lee attending.
The trip must have been particularly difficult for their dad, who was devastated by his father's death. When Dan was just 13 years old his father passed away. Lee R. Briggs died in December of 1927 when he and a student pilot were ejected from a plane.
"My whole world came crashing down on December 5th, 1927," Dan later wrote his memoirs shared by his daughters. "On that day my father was killed in an airplane accident. To say that there was a drastic change in my life is an understatement of great magnitude. My father had always preached to me that no matter how good a person is there is always someone who can take his place. He, himself, disproved that theory. No one was able to take over the Pheasant Airplane Factory and run it as he had done. No one could take over the automobile dealership and run it as he had. Most of all nobody could take his place in my heart and life. In short, he just could not be replaced."
Sharon recalls stories of how her grandmother took Lee's place on the board of directors, but how the company ultimately was sold and relocated to Wisconsin as the nation was entering the grips of the Great Depression.
The family moved to Dillon, Montana for a short time before ultimately returning to Memphis.
Lee's tragic death stalled his son's pursuit of flying.
As he was nearing graduation from West Point, his mother, who was on her deathbed, made Dan promise not to enter the Air Corps.
"My father kept his promise, but I think he regretted it the rest of his life," Sharon said.
Ironically, his sister, Anna Lee, went on to join the Air Corps during World War II and completed a long career.
"I think that would have been okay with grandmother, because in those days women were not allowed to become pilots," Sharon said.
Dan Briggs and sister and Anna Lee.
Ultimately Dan did follow in his father's footsteps, learning to fly while he was stationed with the National Guard in Boise, ID.
"When he finally got his license, I was the only one around to be his first passenger," Sharon said. "Despite my reputation for severe motion sickness, he took me up and the result was predictable."
After Dan Briggs retired from the Army, he went on to work for Gen Aero, the Cessna dealer in San Antonio as a flight instructor. After he received his multi-engine rating, he began flying charters for a medical radiology group and for Texas governor, John Connally.
From its humble beginnings in the 1920's, the family's love for aviation endured, despite the tragic circumstances. Now the two granddaughters and a great-granddaughter will get to see Lee Briggs' handiwork first hand.
"My only regret is that my father, Dan Briggs and my aunt Anna Lee Briggs are not here to witness it as well," Pat said.