Everything Don Briggs accomplished in his professional life prepared him to play the role of LAGCOE Looey this week
Nothing he did in the oil and gas industry prepared him to be the type of Looey he was, serving at the biennial show as its ambassador and a beacon of professional and personal hope whose own story has inspired people around the state.
Briggs, 77, wore the hardhat this week that's been part of the LAGCOE Looey legend since the 1950s, when LAGCOE Looey first represented the "every man" figure in the oilfield at the biennial trade show in Lafayette.
These days, the LAGCOE Looey selected by the trade show chairman represents revered energy figures who've weighed mightily on the industry in Louisiana, people like Donald Mosing and John Chance, Paul Hilliard and "Bo" Ramsay.
Add Don Briggs to the list.
Briggs, who started an oilfield service company at 28, later launched the Louisiana Independent Oil and Gas Association, now the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association. He and LOGA have been tireless lobbyists and advocates for the energy industry. That background made him a natural fit to mingle with foreign delegations to the trade show, with vendors, patrons and industry leaders who attend.
Briggs' personal story, though, set him apart as an inspirational Looey in 2017.
An accidental fall at a vacation home in North Carolina last year inflicted a massive, potentially deadly head wound that caused him to undergo numerous surgeries and a rigorous, uncertain road to recovery.
That months-long challenge never gave him a sure road to complete health; at times, he was certain he would die and, in his darkest moments, accepted that might be best.
He had to call on all his religious faith to survive, he said, and found a new, surer belief in doing so.
Briggs' recovery over many months was nothing less than miraculous, he believes. It included a papal Mass in his name; prayers from family and devoted friends.
Mostly, it involved an existential dialog with God, recognition and acceptance of God as his father; and a determination to accept the grace of his recovery with a penchant to tell his story to others who need to hear it during their own dark times.
At LAGCOE, he shared his story of injury, despair and physical and spiritual recovery with the Oilfield Christian Fellowship at a breakfast, an account that he's taken to energy industry groups as well as those outside the industry.
He said he's willing to share that story with anyone who needs or wants to hear it.
"When I was in the hospital, I would have given anything to have talked with me," he said.
For years a devout Christian, Briggs said his encounter with God through his injury and recovery deepened his personal relationship with God as father, an experience and outlook that has changed him.
"It was a miracle to me, what happened. It's real, it happened, and anyone can have it," he said this week.
His interpretation of events has also been shared with clergy, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Most Rev. Glen John Provost, former Lafayette priest and now bishop of Lake Charles. They affirmed his belief of a miraculous recovery.
With the energy industry struggling with low prices, bankruptcies, layoffs and related personal heartaches, Briggs' message of hope, faith and redemption seemed timely for LAGCOE in 2017.
"In Don's case, he was the best choice for LAGCOE Looey in this downturn. It was the perfect time for him," said Kenny Crouch, who as LAGCOE '17 chairman made the final decision. "When you hear his story, you can't help but be motivated by it.
"I've heard him tell his story a few times. It's remarkable that he can even stand, let alone serve others," Crouch said.
He said Briggs is a Louisiana industry giant, someone who has made lasting contributions to the oil and gas industry.
But Crouch said it's moving to hear Briggs speak not only about the industry, but — in a soft voice — note in conversation "how special it is that friends and colleagues can spend time together."
The role can be exhausting.
Al Thomas, who was LAGCOE Looey in 2013, said in that role you're up late at LAGCOE dinners and gatherings and up early to greet guests. It's important to walk the showroom floor and talk with vendors and guests.
"I don't think the role is any different for him," said Thomas, who was volunteering at LAGCOE this week. "Don's doing fine. He's a great ambassador for the show."
"There's no better pick for Looey than Don," said Angela Cring, LAGCOE executive director. "He's had long days, but he's happy to be here, to be Looey."
That was evident in those who followed him at LAGCOE.
He met with vendors; autographed copies of "Louisiana: The Energy State," a LOGA publication; introduced speakers.
At Wednesday's luncheon, a video message to the trade show from U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, included congratulations for Briggs' efforts as LAGCOE Looey.
Briggs was less impressed with himself.
"They told me I was an ambassador," he said Wednesday morning. "But last night at dinner, a lady told me LAGCOE Looey is a mascot. So now I'm a pet."
Then he laughed.