Preaching, knocking, learning

by Burton Briggs ’61


Burton Briggs
1961, bachelor’s degree in chemistry

The decision to attend Walla Walla College (that was the name back then) was very easy. My father attended WWC in the ’30s; I had a cousin there; and one-third of our senior class from Loma Linda Academy elected to attend WWC. It was teachers like C.W. Shankel, Dr. Claude Barnett, Dean A.J. Johanson, Dean Helen Evans Zolber, and Paul Heubach, plus others that had a profound influence on my education and philosophy of living.

Now when that young person behind the counter automatically gives me the senior discount without asking my age, I realize I have obtained the status of OLD. This status provides the opportunity to reflect over seven decades and portions of two centuries and to see how the Lord has led, guided, opened and closed doors, and provided opportunities to contribute to the care and education of many people.

Having completed medical school at Loma Linda University and residency in anesthesiology/critical care medicine at The Massachusetts General Hospital, my obligation to Uncle Sam was due. It was during the Vietnam War when most of my peers were assigned to an overseas post, and I fully expected to receive a similar assignment. We were euphoric when the letter arrived assigning us to DeWitt Army Hospital at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. 

It was expected that officers in the military would participate in social activities of the unit to which they were assigned. With this in mind, my wife and I decided that we would participate in these activities, but would hold true to our convictions about the use of alcohol and tobacco. One morning after a party the previous evening, the hospital commander called me into his office. During our conversation he said, “We appreciate your coming to our parties and social events because we know that if anything should happen to any of us, you will be sober and able to take care of us.”

Lesson #1 learned: I didn’t have to “preach” to witness.

With my ultimate goal of returning to LLU and being involved in the education of medical students and residents, I needed additional experience in an academic setting. After applying to several institutions and not receiving acceptance, I decided to make a quick trip to Boston to talk with my former department chairman. During our conversation he informed me that there were no open positions in the department. I then went downstairs to visit with a friend who was working in the department and after relating my discussion with the chairman, he said, “Stick around. I was just on my way up to the chief. I am planning to turn in my resignation.” About a half hour later, I received a call with a request to come and see the chief again. During this conversation he offered me a position helping to develop an ICU—an area in which I had a profound interest.

Lesson #2 learned: The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Only by looking back can we see His guidance, which strengthens our faith in His leading. He closes some doors and opens some doors, but you have to go knocking to find out which doors He will open.

As I reflect on more than 35 years at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, it was a joy to see the lights come on in the minds of medical students and residents as they began to understand the body’s complex response to stress, to trauma, to infection, and its ability to recover or fail to recover. That opportunity to pass on to the next generation some knowledge that I may have learned provided intangible rewards. Even now, former students will come up to me and say, “Do you remember when … ?”

During those 35 years, I have had the responsibility of taking care of several of my teachers. It was then that I began to realize I had to demand that the residents and students learn well because, sometime in the future, I or a member of my family may be in that bed, and when we look up and see a former student taking care of us, we want to know that they learned well. That was consistent with my college teachers who demanded that I learn well.

Lesson #3 learned: Keep learning, and share what you have learned.

After praying about what new opportunities were before them, Burton and Carol Briggs retired in a small community in southwest Idaho where they run a u-pick apple orchard. Carol is involved with Health Connection in their community and teaches a Fit and Fall Prevention class for seniors. Burton enjoys astrophotography and continues to learn through involvement as a joint city and county planning commissioner.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Westwind.

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