The Life and Legacy of Peace’s Eighth President, Dr. Garrett Briggs

Jan 5, 2023

Dr. Garrett Briggs, the eighth President of William Peace University (WPU), formerly Peace College, passed away on December 31, 2022. The day also marked his 88th birthday.

Briggs’ time as Peace College President was notable for his warmth and endearing nature toward all. His decade of service, from 1988 until 1998, is recounted fondly by the students who attended during his term.

WPU, then a small, two-year women’s college, was an unlikely next step for Briggs. A geologist by training, he had spent his career at research universities with the exception of a stint managing oil fields for Chevron Oil Company in the early 1960s. 

Before accepting the role of Peace College President in 1988, Briggs held the role of North Carolina State University (NCSU) dean of the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. Additionally, Briggs served as a member of the geology faculty at Tulane University in 1965 and head of the geology department, and associate dean of the University of Tennessee’s College of Liberal Arts in 1968.

In an interview with The News and Observer’s Carolina newspaper dated July 11, 1988, Briggs said he was drawn to the university by characteristics often not found at large universities. 

“Peace is a small college, one in which it’s possible to have close, one-on-one relationships with faculty and students,” Briggs said. He also praised the school’s affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA), strong academic tradition, and meticulously groomed campus.

Under Briggs’ leadership, the school’s endowment nearly doubled, and the College went from a two to a four-year program that offered five separate baccalaureate degrees. Briggs’ goal for WPU was to make the College more visible in the community, describing it as “one of Raleigh’s most closely guarded secrets.” 

He aimed to do this by ensuring the quality of the faculty and students by offering professors the opportunity to travel and further their education, funding more scholarships for students, and enlarging the faculty and supporting staff.

Briggs believed in the then all-women’s college and was dedicated to the success of its students. In his Inaugural Address dated March 19, 1989, at the First Presbyterian Church of Raleigh, Briggs shared specifically his admiration of Peace College Alumnae. 

“Never, anywhere, in my educational and professional experiences have I witnessed such a warmth of spirit and devotion to an institution as I have from the alumnae of Peace College.”

After nearly a decade of service, Briggs announced his retirement in March 1997.

“Garrett was an incredibly smart and gracious leader. I had the chance to visit with him several times prior to the pandemic and his passion for Peace and desire to see the University thrive was inspiring,“ said William Peace University President Dr. Brian C. Ralph. “The University is very fortunate to have had him at the helm – our community will miss him.”

A Dallas, Texas native, Briggs earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Southern Methodist University and a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. He married Susan Lynn Walters in 1957, and the couple has three sons and a daughter – Douglas Garrett Briggs, James Tulane Briggs, Paul Crenshaw Briggs, and Margaret “Molly” Briggs Thompson. Their daughter, Molly, is a 1992 graduate of Peace College.

Donations in his memory can be made to William Peace University here. Read the obituary for Dr. Briggs online here.

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