John Dawkins Briscoe, whose more than six-decade career as a Calvert County farmer spanned the era of horse-drawn equipment to modern tractors and combines, died of natural causes Friday at his farm in St. Leonard. He was 85.
Mr. Briscoe, who was known as "Jack," was born and raised at Stonesby, his family's farm on the Patuxent River at what was then called Parker's Wharf.
Mr. Briscoe's schooling through the seventh grade was in a rural one-room schoolhouse at Island Creek. After graduating from Calvert High School in 1937, he attended Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Va., where he took college preparatory courses.
During World War II, he enlisted in the Army and served as a tank driver with Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army. He and his crew of Tank 13 fought in the Battle of the Bulge and at the end of the war, it was one of only two original tanks extant in their company.
After the war, Mr. Briscoe returned to the farm, which has been in his family since the 1700s, and began working with his father and younger brother.
"He was so anxious to farm. He loved the land and totally enjoyed what he was doing. There was never any question about that. He always kept his fields looking like gardens," said his wife of 57 years, the former Mary Sesson
"Jack really enjoyed farm life. He got farm dirt underneath his fingernails as a kid and liked it," said his brother, James Thompson Briscoe, who farms part of Stonesby. "When we were kids, we had teams of oxen with yokes and horses plowing the fields, and that's how we learned to farm. It wasn't until the 1930s, that we got our first tractor."
For years, tobacco, corn and wheat were the farm's primary crops, along with cattle, dairy cows and chickens.
However, since a tobacco buyout program was initiated in 2000 by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Mr. Briscoe stopped growing tobacco and concentrated on wheat, corn and soybeans, which have made his farm one of the largest grain operations in Calvert County.
Mr. Briscoe was a member of the Maryland Farm Bureau and the Soil Conservation Service and was inducted into the Maryland Department of Agriculture's Hall of Fame in 1997.
"I followed in his footsteps," said a son, Thomas D. Briscoe, who worked with his father. "He believed in soil conservation, crop rotation and other good practices."
Mr. Briscoe, whose workday often began at 6 a.m., was still operating tractors and combines and trucks as he helped bring in this fall's harvest.
"He was very healthy and worked until the day he died. I'm eight years younger than he is, and each day have to take a handful of pills. The only thing he took was an aspirin each day," his brother said.
"He truly loved being out on the farm and was never happier than when he was on a tractor or a combine. Even in the dry years, he never got discouraged, and always said that, `next year will be better,'" his son said.
Mr. Briscoe was an outdoorsman who enjoyed duck hunting and boating on the Patuxent River. He was a gun collector and member of the National Rifle Association and the Southern Maryland Society.
Mr. Briscoe was a longtime and active communicant of Christ Episcopal Church in Port Republic where services will be held at 11 a.m. today.
In addition to his wife, son and brother, Mr. Briscoe is survived by another son, John P. Briscoe of St. Leonard; two daughters, Chloe B. Ewalt of Prince Frederick and Mary-Clare B. McNatt of St. Leonard; and nine grandchildren.