Louise Margaret Briggs, who died May 31 at age 95, never held a paying job in her life. But that didn’t stop Briggs, a resident of Sapulpa, Okla., from working tirelessly to help those who needed it most — from physically and mentally disabled children and cancer patients to residents of the Ranch Terrace Nursing Home. Many of the latter knew her only as the “Banana Lady,” owing to to her practice of offering each of them half a banana when she greeted them on her volunteering visits.
“She thought they needed some attention,” Briggs’ daughter, Lisbeth DeLong, explained recently to an interviewer. “The bananas were just her way of showing that she cared.”
But for Briggs, compassion was a way of life. She was an example of what the Nobel Prize-winning theologian and medical missionary Albert Schweitzer had in mind when he advised us all that the way to fulfillment was to “do something for somebody everyday for which you do not get paid.”
Briggs was born in 1916 in Kellyville, Okla., and attended junior college before marrying Charles W. “Hap” Briggs in 1934, and becoming the mother of three children. She became active in the local Presbyterian church, which led in the early 1960s to what she saw as her greatest accomplishment — starting a Sunday school class for eight children with disabilities, whom Briggs would pick up from their homes and bring to the church. Briggs’ work with her group of young pupils helped to launch a wave of disability activism in her community, which eventually led to the establishment of a school and a sheltered workshop program for the disabled.
After losing her father to lung cancer, Briggs volunteered to drive cancer patients to doctors’ office appointments and treatment sessions, and eventually became president of the Creek County branch of the American Cancer Society. She also served in the state’s ombudsman program, working as an advocate for disabled nursing home patients.
In her later years, she herself became a resident of the nursing home where she had volunteered. Even when she was no longer able to assist others, she contributed what her daughter Lisbeth DeLong described as her “million-dollar smile” to make the facility’s ambiance more upbeat. “She kept it to the end,” DeLong recalled.