Olive Through the Ages

In remembrance of historian and author Phil Brigandi

June 29, 1959 - December 12, 2019

Phil Brigandi at OCHS Author's Night, 2013  
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I never thought I would be writing about Phil Brigandi on the event of his passing, because I never thought we would ever lose him. Phil was in the prime of his writing career; he had so much he wanted to research on Orange County, California history and share with us.

When I was employed by The Orange City News many years ago, Phil would submit fascinating articles on the City's history which we published in our local newspaper. I had never met him, but imagined he was a retired gentleman since he knew so much about Orange and wrote as if he were an old-timer; little did I know he was a very young man!

It was not until 2005 that I finally met Phil as the Orange County Archivist while pursuing my research on the town of Olive at the Archives. He seemed a bit skeptical about my aspiration to create a website about Olive; I can imagine some people have approached him with plans to do something public-facing from their research at the County Archives, only to have it never materialize.

Our paths would cross again through my involvement with the Orange County Historical Society (OCHS) where we served together on the website committee. About that time, Phil began to proactively contribute content to this website. Unsolicited, he supplied information for my research, such as a photocopy of the entire April 27, 1922 edition of Orange Post: Greater Olive Expansion Edition.

Over time, I learned from Phil never to be satisfied with quick answers to historical questions, and to always question the material before me. This discipline requires a lot of patience which I've gained in part through my historical research.

Early last year, Phil announced his new OCHistoryland.com website to many of his colleagues; he would write about topics on Orange County history in reply to questions from site visitors. I congratulated him on this accomplishment, adding that he seemed to be filling the shoes of Jim Sleeper, the late Orange County historian who passed away in 2012. I asked Phil how he became interested in our county's history, to which he replied on February 3, 2018:

Actually, I always wanted to grow up to be Don Meadows, living in an adobe house full of books, up in the hills.

And if you asked Don how he got interested in local history, he would just say, I can't explain it, I don't try to explain it. For him, it was just a liberal curiosity about the world around him.

I've been interested in local history as long as I can remember (I thought 4th grade California history was the greatest thing since sliced bread). I originally planned to [go] into journalism, but local history just sort of came and found me. That is, enough jobs and opportunities that changed the direction of my life. I haven't always made much of a living at it, but I'm still here.

The website, then, is just an extension of that . . . finding new ways to get the story out.

Though we shared a common interest in local history these many years, Phil was always formal and reserved in his mannerism toward me. It wasn't until last year that he began opening up more, and I saw a mischievous side emerge. Continuing on the subject of 4th grade California history projects, Phil replied in his email on February 5th:

No, no salt-and-flour map, or sugar-cube mission for me! A couple of us made our mission model out of actual "adobe bricks," made from the mud in a friend's backyard. At the end of the year we turned a hose on it, so it could melt just like a real adobe. How I wish I had a picture of it.

I always regarded Phil as being very focused, determined, detail-oriented, well-organized, and goal-oriented. After sharing his research on the history of postmasters in Olive, Phil commented in his email on March 3, 2019:

...yes, the post office list turned out to be rather "herculean" -- and it does not even include lists of all the locations of these different offices over the years. My major idea was to expand the number of people we see as part of the history of Orange County. Somewhere down the road is another huge list of all the constables and justices of the peace in the different townships. And unlike the postmasters, there's not even a list of names to start with. But like the postmasters, these are interesting individuals (and elected officials to boot).

The "list of all the constables" Phil referenced in this message ties in with a presentation he delivered at an OCHS general meeting on October 10, 2013, titled "Last of the Wild West." In this presentation, Phil shared his research on Los Alamitos Deputy Marshal Juan Orosco of the early 1900s whom he believed was murdered. This video showing the conclusion of his presentation includes Phil's explanation of the difficulties he encountered while researching constables in the County's history:

In my last email from Phil on November 19, 2019 at 9:49 a.m., he mentioned he would likely be dedicating a few years in researching the entire Gaspár de Portolá expedition. The Portolá party arrived in the area—that would become the town of Olive—on July 28 and 29, 1769.

It's sad to think Phil will never realize his many dreams and aspirations, nor find answers to all his questions about our local history and the people who lived it. On the other hand, Phil lived the life he wanted to live, and accomplished what might have taken others more than a lifetime to fulfill. He passed on quickly without knowing his time for departure would arrive when it did.

We depended on Phil a lot; he was our go-to guy when we needed help with our historical projects. He responded to emails promptly and courteously, and never betrayed any annoyance with our requests. Now we must remember what he taught us, and rely on ourselves to find the answers we seek to our questions on local history.

Though we grieve Phil's loss and will always miss him, we can be grateful for what he gave us while he was here. He shared much of his time and knowledge about Orange County history with us, and we are the better for him teaching us how to explore, discover, understand, and appreciate the history of this place we call home.

- Daralee, December 31, 2019

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