In remembrance of historian and author Phil Brigandi
June 29, 1959 - December 12,
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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
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
...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
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.