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In memoriam: Mike Briggs

FFRF Lifetime Member Michael J. Briggs, of Madison, Wis., died Aug. 26 at the age of 84.

Mike was born in Norfolk, England, on Sept. 1, 1934. Mike attended the University of Exeter, where he met his future wife Norma, who was from London. They wed on June 30, 1956.

In 1958, Mike and Norma immigrated to the United States. He went to graduate school at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Their three daughters were born in Durham. In 1962, the family moved to Lagos, Nigeria, where Mike worked on a Ford Foundation grant to help set up a national library. In 1966, the family moved to Madison, and shortly after arriving there, Mike and Norma had a son and fostered a son. Mike worked as an African studies bibliographer, and Norma became involved in the feminist movement.

Mike graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1975. He worked as a parole and probation administrative law judge, and also served three terms as an alder on the Madison City Council. Norma also went to law school and graduated in 1984. When Mike retired, he joined Norma in her private practice.

In 1999, they moved to Oregon, Wis., where Norma designed the house and transformed their 10 acres of land into an amazing garden. They were avid Scottish country dancers for decades. Norma died in April 2015, and Mike moved to a retirement community in Madison. He continued to practice law pro bono, and focused on assisting his neighbors with estate planning. Mike also remained active in progressive politics.

Mike had a lifelong love of music, which he shared with many. As a boy, he played church organ, piano and sang in choir, and he later took up the guitar, banjo, concertina and accordion. Mike was a versatile musician, composing originals and arranging standards. He played and sang rousing labor and anti-war songs, and was a member of English and Scottish country dance bands. In his later years, Mike was a peripatetic accordion player, who nicknamed himself “Grandpa Squeezebox.”

Mike was also gifted at language, with a command of many tongues and a love for the dialect of his native Norfolk. He had a wonderful sense of humor, boundless compassion and intellect, and regaled many with his quick, wry wit. Shortly before his passing, he shared this joke: “What is perfect pitch? That’s when you throw an accordion and it lands in a dumpster full of banjos.”

Mike Briggs