John W. Briscoe

Engineer, Educator, Skillful Administrator and Civic Leader

By Professors Emeritus John D. Haltiwanger and William J. Hall

John William Briscoe, the son of Walter Cole Briscoe and Gertrude Gaile (McKean) Briscoe, was born on February 24, 1917, in Westfield, Ill.  He was raised on the family farm and graduated from high school in 1935.   He attended Hanover College in Hanover, Ind., from 1935 until 1937, when he transferred to the University of Illinois.  He graduated with a B.S. in Ceramic Engineering in June 1940.

After one year of industrial experience as a ceramic engineer, Briscoe entered U.S. Army Air Corps pilot training in June 1941.  He served on active duty until March 1946, attaining the rank of Major. In the Air Corps, he accumulated more than 2,000 flight hours while serving as a flight instructor and as an aircraft engineering officer.  On July 4, 1942, while stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, Briscoe married Mary Catherine (Kay) Moore, whom he had met while a student at the University of Illinois. Following his release from military service, Briscoe  returned to the University of Illinois in February 1946 and was awarded a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering in 1947.

After a short period of professional service with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, he joined the faculty of the University of Illinois in September 1948 as an Instructor in Civil Engineering.  From March 1951 until February 1953, his service with the University was interrupted by a recall to duty with the Air Force during the Korean War, where he served as Deputy Division Engineer for the Military Air Transport Service, Hickam Field, Hawaii.  Upon his return to the University, he completed his graduate studies and was awarded the M.S. degree in Civil Engineering in June of 1953.

In 1953, Briscoe was appointed Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering.  He progressed rapidly through the academic ranks, being appointed Professor and Assistant Head of the Department of Civil Engineering in 1957.  In 1959, he was named Associate Head of Civil Engineering, in which position he served until 1965.  From 1965 until 1967, he served as Associate Provost of the University, and in 1967 he was appointed Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs for the Urbana campus, a position he held until 1975 when he resigned to return to teaching in Civil Engineering.  He retired from active service on the faculty of the University in 1981, at which time he was appointed Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering.

Although his first love, and clearly the primary focus of his interest and attention, was the University of Illinois and, in particular, the Department of Civil Engineering, he also had many other interests.  Consistent with his strong sense of both civic and professional responsibility, during his tenure on the faculty of the University he served in numerous public service positions, including Chairman of the National Park Service Committee on Historic American Engineering Records, Member of the History and Heritage Committee of the American Society of Civil Engineers, member of the Board of Directors of the Urbana Chamber of Commerce, Alderman of the City of Urbana, member of the Urbana Rotary Club, member of the Board of Directors of the United Fund of Champaign County, member of the Board of Directors of the Champaign County Historical Museum, Trustee, Deacon, and Elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Urbana, and numerous other civic assignments.

His professional society memberships included The American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society for Engineering Education, the American Railway Engineering Association, the American Concrete Institute, the Society for the History of Technology, the Society for Industrial Archeology, and the Association for the Preservation of Technology.  His primary nonprofessional interests included United States Civil War history, genealogy, and woodworking.

Jack Briscoe, as he was known to his myriad friends and associates, will be remembered as a man dedicated to his family, his country, his profession, and his community; a man of strong convictions, who stood up for those convictions fiercely; and a man who understood honor, exhibited honor in all of his endeavors, and worked diligently to instill a sense of honor in all the students who studied and worked under his direction.

Briscoe died on August 23, 2001, in Urbana, Ill.