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Donald Briggs Jr. was born in Leucadia and later graduated from San Dieguito High School. Courtesy photo/Briggs family
Leucadia born Donald Briggs Jr. was the owner of Briggs Nursery and Tree Company in Vista. Courtesy photo
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Briggs Jr., owner of county’s largest plant nursery, dies at 94

VISTA — Donald Briggs Jr., owner of one of the largest plant nurseries in San Diego County, died from complications of old age after contracting a cold in March. He was 94.

In May 1929, Briggs Jr. was born at a home on West Glaucus Street above Beacon’s Beach in Leucadia to his parents, Charles and Elizabeth Briggs, who are considered the founders of the San Diego County flower industry and the largest gladiolus producers in the West Coast for decades.

After taking over the family’s cut-flower and bulb-growing business, Briggs Jr. eventually opened his own wholesale nursery, Briggs Nursery and Tree Company in Vista.

His family described him as a hardworking, adventurous father and husband whose first priorities were helping others and making North County a greener place.

“He was always the guy to show up to the job site bringing lunch for everybody,” said Don Briggs III, Briggs Jr.’s son. “Just always thinking of other people first.”

Briggs III said his father lived four lifetimes as a businessman, pilot, world traveler and family man.

Leucadia born Donald Briggs Jr. was the owner of Briggs Nursery and Tree Company in Vista. Courtesy photo
Leucadia-born Donald Briggs Jr. owned Briggs Nursery and Tree Company in Vista. Courtesy photo
Donald Briggs Jr. was the youngest students Carlsbad Army and Navy Academy. Courtesy photo/Briggs family
Donald Briggs Jr. was reportedly the youngest student to attend Carlsbad Army and Navy Academy. Courtesy photo

During World War II, Briggs Jr.’s father, Donald Sr., helped guard Lake Hodges Dam before the family relocated to Colorado due to fears of a Japanese invasion. Despite this, young Donald’s ties to North County remained strong.

Returning to the area, Briggs Jr. became the youngest student at Carlsbad Army Navy Academy and one of the first to earn an Eagle Scout badge in San Diego County. His childhood was marked by adventures such as riding his pony on the beaches and camping in the hills of Encinitas.

Briggs Jr. spent his youth with close friend Ed Kentner, whose parents owned the Twin Inns Restaurant in Carlsbad, a second home for him. The two friends spent countless hours on the beach, crafting and selling rock slings through mail-order magazines, driving old cars, and enjoying the coastal town.

Briggs Jr.’s passion for speed and thrills began with building and racing hot rods, an activity he enjoyed with Jim Nelson of Dragmaster, a legendary drag racing, auto repair and chassis-building shop.

Donald briggs Jr. enjoyed building and racing hot rods with Dragmaster owner Jim Nelson. Courtesy photo/Briggs family
Donald Briggs Jr. enjoyed building and racing hot rods with Dragmaster owner Jim Nelson. Courtesy photo/Briggs family

Briggs Jr. later graduated from San Dieguito High School Academy.

According to his son, Briggs Jr. attended the University of California-Santa Barbara for a year before deciding to work for his family’s business, which had evolved from producing award-winning gladiolas to birds of paradise.

At one time, the Briggs family’s birds of paradise fields, which stretched from Monroe/Sunnyhill/Park Drive nearly to Agua Hedionda Lagoon, helped inspire the city of Carlsbad to name the bird of paradise as its official flower.

The thriving enterprise employed many local residents, with Briggs Jr. working alongside his brother-in-law, Harry McMillan, packing and shipping the flowers.

During this time, Briggs Jr. discovered a love for surfing. He eventually learned to shape his own redwood boards and formed connections with iconic surfers like Grubby Clark, Don Hansen and Hobart “Hobie” Alter, according to his son.

Like so many others, the Korean War disrupted his life, prompting him to join the Air Force to avoid being drafted. Briggs Jr. often joked about “flying a typewriter” at March Field because his vision prevented him from becoming a military pilot.

However, he later became an accomplished private pilot, starting with Piper Cubs at the Del Mar slough airstrip and eventually flying his Navion from Palomar Airport to Baja California. Briggs Jr. loved camping on the beach with his family at Gonzaga Bay and mastering motorless flight in sailplanes, for which he had a “profound love.”

Donald Briggs Jr. was an avid pilot after his time in the air Force during the Korean War. Courtesy photo/Briggs family

Donald Briggs Jr. was an avid private pilot following his service in the Air Force during the Korean War. Courtesy photo/Briggs family
Donald Briggs Jr. was an avid pilot after serving in the Air Force during the Korean War. Courtesy photos/Briggs family

One of his most remarkable flights was a non-stop, seven-hour journey from Otay Mesa to St. George, Utah. His cousin, Doug Hasselo, often chased him across the Eastern Sierras and high desert with a truck and trailer, finding him performing off-airport landings in alfalfa fields and dry lake beds.

As a businessman, Briggs Jr. later sold his family’s birds of paradise fields to a home developer before leasing and purchasing land in Vista and San Marcos to launch the Briggs Tree Company empire. He worked at the nursery from 4 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily. For over 50 years, the company employed up to 100 workers at a time while gaining a reputation as one of the best and largest wholesale nurseries in the county. Today, the nursery is still family-owned and operated.

In his spare time, Briggs Jr. enjoyed traveling the world with his family, taking them to places like the Caribbeans, Hawaii, Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Tahiti.

“He didn’t sit still,” Briggs III said.

But most importantly, Briggs Jr. was a family man and provided for his wife and their four children, Briggs II said.

“Not much of the go-to-baseball-games type of guy, but he was the guy there for you and bought the girls horses and all that kind of stuff,” Briggs III said. “He was a great family provider.”

Until the last two weeks of his life, Briggs Jr. enjoyed driving around North County to visit his properties.

“His drives had stories reflecting on the evolving landscape of North County and his cherished memories of friends and experiences which highlighted his deep connection to the area,” Briggs III said.

Briggs Jr. is survived by his wife Judy, his children Debra, Denise, Don and Delinda, and his five grandchildren.

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