Longtime Children's Theatre director Pat Briggs dies

Briggs led nationally renown theater group for 47 years

Pat Briggs, who guided and coached generations of Palo Alto children onto the stage as director of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, died June 8 in her native Chicago after a period of failing health.

Briggs served as head of the Children's Theatre starting in 1961 and was credited with building the group's national reputation for excellence. She retired in 2008 following a complex police and city administrative investigation of her record-keeping practices that caused an explosion of community interest and fiercely conflicting online commentary for a year. She was initially fired but was reinstated after negotiations allowed her to return to work for a day and then retire with benefits. Her final role was as advising artistic director during the transition to a new administration.

Patricia Briggs. Courtesy photo.
Then-Mayor Pat Burt called the end result of the fizzled investigations an "exoneration" of Briggs from any criminal conduct, and both Briggs and city officials admitted errors in bookkeeping and financial supervision of the theater group.

In 2009, the City Council recognized her with a proclamation, and City Councilman Jack Morton commented, "There are some people in this world that walk into your life and leave you with a permanent memory of the good we can do when we put our hearts to it."

In August 2010, the Children's Theatre Foundation of America gave her a "Medallion" award for her nearly half-century of promoting "significant artistry and/or achievement impacting the imagination of children and youth."

On an obituary page hosted by the Chicago Tribune, former Children's Theatre participant Derek Wood paid tribute to Briggs: "Pat Briggs had no biological children, but she has thousands of us out in the world reaping the benefit of all she gave us through the Children's Theater. A Sondheim lyric says that all we leave behind after we're gone is children and art. Pat's children and her art are one and the same."

Briggs was born in Chicago on July 12, 1936, and experienced the stage from an early age: Her father was a professional entertainer who sang and danced, and her mother was a professional dancer who did a high-wire act. By her senior year in high school she was taking regular classes during the day and studying voice, diction and lessons at Goodman School of Drama in Chicago at night.

After high school, she continued at Goodman while enrolling in Loyola University, from which she graduated with a bachelor's degree, with a major in directing.

After college she was named director of the Children's Theatre Division of the Des Moines Community Playhouse.

In 1961 she was named director of the already venerable Palo Alto Children's Theatre, which was created in 1932.

During her 47 years there, she directed more than 500 productions and wrote more than 20 scripts, receiving numerous awards.

Briggs' longtime assistant director, Michael Litfin, died of cancer in 2008, after the police investigation into the theater operations began.

Cy Ashley Webb, who became head of the Friends of the Children's Theatre following the crisis of the investigations, said Briggs left a deep impression on many.

"More than anything else, Pat created a community," Webb said. "Several years ago, it seemed inconceivable that a generation of kids was going through those doors without knowing Pat and Michael. Yet sure enough, (there were) the mess of bicycles piled by the doors, folks queuing up the alley for "(Summer) Hot Dog shows."

"I like to think that so much of Pat and Michael's DNA is embedded in the organization that even the City of Palo Alto can't screw it up," Webb said.

Briggs also was active with the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Palo Alto, serving on three committees.

She enjoyed travel, especially to Hawaii, and celebrated her 80th birthday with an Alaska cruise with nieces Marie and Joanie.

She was preceded in death by a brother, Frank, and sister, Kathleen. She is survived by two nieces and nine great-nieces and great-nephews.

A visitation and funeral mass were held Monday and Tuesday in Chicago Heights with internment in Glenwood, Illinois.

In Palo Alto, a "celebration of life" has been tentatively scheduled for Aug. 5, to coincide with a Children's Theatre alumni reunion and the 85th anniversary of the theater group.


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49 people like this
Posted by Lia Chester
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 12, 2017 at 5:15 pm

While much of the article on Pat's life is appreciated,posting dirty laundry in a Memorial is just bad news. For someone who devoted their life to helping our communities children, it's flat out disrespectful. What the city did to her and Michael was wrong and destroyed lives. As one of her "kids", and former employee of Palo Alto Weekly, I am sorely disappointed that what should have been a tribute filled with gratitude, is barely more than tabloid journalism.

31 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2017 at 7:06 pm

Wow! Really? With so much given to the community and generations of children who have gone on to be successful and to attribute their success to the skills and insights they got from Pat, the author couldn't resist dragging us all through that horrible year, just couldn't resist tarnishing again, someone who gave so much more than this reporter will ever hope to contribute.

Can you spell pathetic? Patricia Briggs was an extraordinary director, icon and mentor. Jay, you're heading in the wrong directory if you hope to be great. Even a little bit great.

31 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Rajbhandari
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2017 at 7:35 pm

I wish I could say I was pleased with a literary tribute to a great director, mentor and friend when I read your article on Pat's passing.
Sadly, the opposite is true. Pat was a creative, passionate and extremely loving woman. She changed thousands of lives, gave us a home away from home and bonded us for life by teaching us teamwork. She created a community for children of theatre for children by children. We learned ever aspect of theatre from set design, costume construction, dance, acting, singing, script writing and directing. We learned what a community was and added to it, each of us feeling free to be who we really are and appreciate our differences. One summer, while I was working at the theatre ( my first teaching job, later following my passion for teaching to become tenured at PAUSD) Pat took care of a homeless family by letting at least one, probably more of the children stay at the theatre and take classes. She gave them breakfast, lunch and dinner all summer long and beyond.
The fact that your article misses the mark is extremely upsetting to me as someone who has known Pat, learned from her, was mentored by her, hired by her and always welcomed by her with open arms. Perhaps she was too busy teaching kids every aspect of theater, traveling with them to experience theatre in other parts of the country, welcoming children from all walks of life and experiences into a loving, challenging and awakening us to our true potential to balance the books and be her own impeccable accountant. Regardless, your could do much better with your representation of a cherished and respected pillar of our community,Patricia Briggs. She will always be in the hearts of those who had the privilege of working with and knowing her.

17 people like this
Posted by PAMom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2017 at 11:16 pm

Why would the Weekly stoop to such a low blow?

18 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 12, 2017 at 11:21 pm

We need constant reminders that no good deed goes unpunished.
Leadership is not for the faint of heart. City Council recognizes this,
and just now adjourned their meeting in Pat Briggs' honor.

24 people like this
Posted by my say
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 13, 2017 at 6:51 am

A newspaper is about news, not eulogies. Even newspaper obituaries are not about eulogies. The paper is correct in publishing a fact based obituary. That includes sloppy financial practices and what led to Briggs "retirement". Those facts do not detract from her creativity and leadership in the Children's Theater. No doubt her supporters will remember the whole of what she was and her contributions duly noted by the obituary. But a newspaper should hide facts in favor of accolades. It's about information.

27 people like this
Posted by jim sullivan
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 13, 2017 at 7:41 am

Way back in 62-63 I volunteered as a stage setup-break down kid for Pat+staff.
My mind wanders back, remembering her determination and kind guiding ways that ensured a fun production for all.
The Sound of Music was in full swing,but come showtime she was short a few sheep-goats for the Goatherd song..
She rounded up a few of us meek and starry eyed stage hands,had us dressed up as goats and sheep in no time and the show went on....
Just a few yrs ago, I fortuitously ran into Pat at Midtown, talked with her about that time long ago,she was humble and gracious humoring my gobble headed memories.
Fond recollections from an old hambone(me), Pat was a truly inspiring catalyst for the Palo Alto Theatre group.
I draw comfort now,knowing she's putting together a heck of a show above the Pearly Gates.

26 people like this
Posted by Indelible
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 13, 2017 at 7:55 am

I think the Weekly article makes clear that the investigation was a travesty especially in light of what she gave to the community. Given its public nature, I think the article had to say something. I think it helps put that mess to bed. I hope people will use this opportunity to write their gratitude and fond memories of Pat.

15 people like this
Posted by green gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 13, 2017 at 10:01 am

Pat Briggs was obviously a very creative and caring person. She had no interest in finances nor in paperwork, and her office showed that with stacks and stacks of paper.

25 people like this
Posted by Chris Gaither
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 13, 2017 at 10:23 am

Rest in peace. It is really unfortunate Ms. Briggs had to experience what she did in 2008 and 2009. That entire brouhaha made Palo Alto look like a very small minded, Mayberry RFD type of town. The notion that the local police would be involved in accounting inaccuracies of a city run theatre group, if they did exist, was purely over the top. If there were any accounting challenges, the place for investigation would be with the city auditor's office, until something was proven, and not the police. What a shame that someone who gave so much to this city, children, and residents had to experience such crap.

40 people like this
Posted by Patty McEwen
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 13, 2017 at 10:25 am

Pat Briggs was my good friend, my dear friend, for more than thirty of her forty-seven years as PACT Director. She succeeded in this because she respected children and their capabilities. She believed that every one of them would rise to the occasion when called upon to achieve something they didn’t know they could do. She enabled them to draw on talents and strength they didn’t know they had and self-confidence that Pat had fostered in them. She was dedicated to the founding principles of the Children’s Theatre, namely, “Child actors for child audiences,” and the belief that the children should experience every aspect of theater production. These were the principles which the founding Director, Hazel Glaister Robinson, set as the guidelines for the Theatre. These were revolutionary ideas in 1932 when other children’s theaters had productions of children’s plays performed by adult actors. Pat’s phenomenal creative energy, her ability to organize thirty, or sometimes more, energetic youngsters to work together for the goal of successful production, her tireless attention to detail and her choice of the team to help her do this were all aspects of her personality and career that her many admirers will remember.

Over the years more than one former participant in the Theatre has told me of being rescued from a wrong path and set on a better one by Pat and work at the Theatre.

I am a very old lady now, and the Children’s Theatre has been in my heart since I was ten years old and had the dual roles of Elf and Fire Fairy in a play called The Land of Cards. From then on I spent every free hour at the Theatre. Hazel Robertson was my dear friend as long as she lived. I feel wonderfully lucky to have known these two remarkable women, Hazel and Pat, who made and kept the Children’s Theatre the great thing it has been in our community.

22 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 13, 2017 at 3:04 pm

The article gives the suggestion of some impropriety or illegality by Pat Briggs. This is historically inaccurate. The Daily Post's article today is closer to the truth of what happened.

The fact is that no actual crime was discovered by the police department after a year of expensive investigations. No one was formally accused or indicted.

The city manager's office basically threw her under the bus. The city council developed a "wait and see" approach, claiming their "hands were tied". Finally, the county attorney shut down the investigation, and the city council issued two profuse apologies to Pat and her team.

A later independent audit found that the investigation had been very poorly handled. The police chief was soon fired for a number of reasons, but surely this history played a part.

I am sure many of us cried ourselves to sleep over this many times; I certainly did until I read the police report and figured out there was no case at all and the police were out of control. It took the county attorney to stop them.

Pat Briggs and Michael Litfin, her assistant, were incredibly successful. The Children's Theater was the one place I have seen that can only be described as magical.

13 people like this
Posted by PFry
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 13, 2017 at 8:05 pm

Our children were involved with Children's Theater from age 8-22. That is a total of 22 years for the two of them. They were both on stage and worked for Pat and Michael. (Allison too) Pat was always there for the kids, teaching them theater and life lessons. She was very kind but very strict, something our kids respected very much. She taught them to be good human beings, life lessons, to be kind, generous, and understanding others. She taught them how to work together in life and in the theater.

It's sad Jay, to degrade someone in an obituary who meant SO much to SO many as a person and teacher. Pat was very concerned about her work and her students. It would be my guess that finances were at the bottom of her list of priorities.

One summer when our children were 10 and 13, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went to Pat and told her that my kids would probably have a difficult summer to please let me know if there were any unusual circumstances with them. Pat was so kind and said they would watch, give our kids special projects and take good care of them. What more can anybody ask than to know, from such a wonderful person, that they would support our kids and take care of them during that time.

I don't know what our kids would have done without Pat during all the summers and hours they spent at Children's Theater.

I hope there is a large venue for her memorial. Our family will be there.

Thank Pat for everything.

12 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 13, 2017 at 11:36 pm

Pat was an exceptional and positive influence on three generations of kids in our community and her legacy lives on through the thousands she touched and cared for. Her life showed us that there really are "public servants".

5 people like this
Posted by Barbara Slone
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 14, 2017 at 2:53 am

I am very disappointed in this article. Pat was so influential in changing the lives of so many children including my elder son. She will be greatly missed. I think that an apology is in order for dragging such a talented, passionate and caring woman through the mud. RIP Pat! We loved you and will continue to hold your memory in high esteem.

4 people like this
Posted by Indelible
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 14, 2017 at 7:56 am

Please everyone, the disappointment in the article is clear, and our feelings about the injustice to Pat. Please now focus on and share your memories now, so Pat's family can see how much she was loved.

2 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 14, 2017 at 11:21 am

Wha is not said here is that the Bogus police investigation was squashed finally and resulted in the police chief being replaced along with the Sergeant who did the investigation , and some senior City staff who allowed it to happen

9 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of another community
on Jun 14, 2017 at 11:37 am

On behalf of Pat's family, I'd like to thank everyone who has said so many wonderful things about our Aunt. She was a treasure to us, and it is really heartwarming to see the outpouring of love and appreciation by her 'theater kids.' Please know that she loved you just as much. These past months she has struggled with heart-related issues, and has been living with me, but she always brightened up when we talked about PACT. I'm grateful that her legacy lives in each of us who knew her, especially her ability to see inside you and appreciate your unique qualities. YES, we will have a big Celebration of Life for her in Palo Alto, and will begin planning that now that the funeral services here in the Chicago area are complete. More to come. Bless you all. xoxo

1 person likes this
Posted by Ellen Harrtog
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2017 at 10:39 am

We are all thinking of you and remembering times of great excitement and splendor in all that went into a show - from auditions to practice, costume fittings and props, singing, dancing and memorizing lines. It was a major production and achievement. Thank you for all your wonderful years and memories you have given to so many families. You have left a huge mark on Palo Alto and cherish you.

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