Lafayette City Council member Tonya Briggs remembered
Being asked to write a eulogy for someone you care about, someone who was only 44, a mother of three beautiful red-headed girls, happily married for almost two decades, and a leading Lafayette City Council member, is difficult. It is even harder because she was not just loved by her family and her closest friends — she was loved by EVERYONE.
When I offered my number to have people call me, I had no idea how many would, but the calls came in every day, all day, for the next week.
Tonya Jo Briggs passed away due to heart failure on September 16th, 2023. Tonya contracted Strep A, which is on the rise in the United States. In most cases, it can be treated with antibiotics, but it moves quickly and can be irreversible in a very short period of time. When she entered the hospital she had an upper respiratory infection and pneumonia, which in turn caused her immense heart to stop beating within 29 hours of checking in.
It is hard to wrap the mind and heart around how someone so strong, vibrant, and determined could be taken from this world by a microscopic virus in a matter of days.
I first met Tonya through our activism as citizens; we were petitioning for stricter fracking regulations, especially near homes and schools. But I truly got to know Tonya when she helped me throw a picnic —not just any picnic. It was the Erie Extreme BBQ.
I attempted to have a picnic in 2018 to bring the divided political “sides” together, but I was not having much luck. No one really wanted to do it. Tonya saw my struggle, believed in me, and told me, “We are having this picnic.” From there, I am not exactly sure what happened. I do know that once Tonya got involved, we had the picnic. All in all, about 50 neighbors came out for the day and enjoyed the BBQ.
Of the over dozen people I spoke to or received letters from, the recurring theme was that Tonya always stood for what was right — for the greater good. She had this innate ability to bring people together to work to achieve it. She was about bettering the world around her. I have come to realize how much of a force she was, someone who got things done — and not just picnics.
This sudden loss has been painfully hard to accept, not just for me but for everyone I spoke to.
“Tonya was not a career politician; she cared about Lafayette and the people of Lafayette, and that was it,” Mayor J.D. Mangat recalled fondly.
Mangat spoke highly of Tonya’s work for the Lafayette community as a City Council member. His sentiments were not the empty words we sometimes hear from work colleagues about losing a peer in the community.
Like all whose lives she touched, Mayor Mangat struggled to process her empty seat.
“She was someone who told it like it is and wasn’t up there playing games. Her intent was to be a true representative of the people of Lafayette.”
When asked about the puppy mill ban Tonya hoped to pass, he shared her willingness to compromise to accomplish the goal while working to keep legitimate businesses open. “She adjusted her stance on it, not completely pulling out of how she wanted it implemented. However, she was open-minded and reasonable enough to talk to other people, even if they didn’t align with exactly what she wanted. So basically, I’m saying that she was very understanding of where other people were coming from.”
He encouraged me to watch the city council meeting on September 19th, 2023, stating, “The whole meeting was pretty much dedicated to Tonya.”
I also spoke with Councilor Tim Barnes, who, in his most eloquent way, conveyed just how good Tonya was at working to find solutions that everyone could come to an agreement on.
“That’s why it was always fun to work with Tonya because she was one of the few people I know who understood how to really relate to natural systems. That goes from farms and animals to social services, human understanding, and being a local business owner. She understood how the process worked. She could walk between all of these systems, where most people don’t really try to work. There’s a reason I think that we could do so much.
She was smart, and by smart, I mean wise. She brought incredible resources. What she didn’t know, she learned. We understood how to have more complexities that go beyond a single issue. She understood how to incorporate ideas that weren’t their own. She could belong to various groups of people and work with other people’s pain points. Her biggest asset was being able to listen to people that she didn’t agree with and explain to them how what they saw overlapped with other systems and helped them see the bigger picture. She was able to hold multiple platforms at the same time.”
Which is an understatement. Tonya was a force, an idealist, a lover of earth and its inhabitants, and she never backed down from what was right.
Tonya, along with Tiffany Foote of Mother Gaia Animal Rescue, saved a lot of animals together over the last 12 years. Still, the story that stood out most is them catching a loose goat with a broken leg running around Lafayette.
“I always feel like she was just a badass. Like, all I can think about when describing her.
In Lafayette, she was making sure she could have her pigs. The city told her she could only have one pig. And she was like, nope, I’m running for city council, I was like, wow, that’s definitely somebody I could look up to. The rest of us just sit around and complain, but she went out and got something done about it. Like how many farm animals did she have?
She was one of those people that I could call and be like, I need help with the Marshall Fire animal rescues, and she was there. I crashed called her on Easter. We had a cat that needed a C-section, and we needed hands to catch kittens to resuscitate them. She just dropped everything and went to the hospital. She was literally milking Mama cat so the kittens could have milk.
Then there was the Lafayette goat. I got a call about this loose goat being spotted over by the fire department. I called her for help, and the next thing I knew, she and a whole bunch of people showed up. We chased the goat through fields, and it fell into a ditch with its broken leg. After we caught it, she carried it all the way back across the field to the cars.”
You can read Tiffany’s written statement here.
Former Lafayette City councilwoman Merrily Mazza wanted to ensure I knew just how much Tonya did.
“I met Tonya six or more years ago when she connected with our community rights organization, East Boulder County United. I encouraged her to run for city council, and she probably hated me when she had to read 100-page agenda packets. The world needs many more Tonyas, more men and women who don’t just love and protect their families but take action to love and protect other people’s families, children, animals, and the planet.
I admired her tremendously for the effort she was willing to put in because I didn’t have little kids. I didn’t have a job I had to go to.”
Hope for the earth, the environment, and the future of all our children and grandchildren lies solely with local activists. It lies with people like Tonya, who will not just take to the streets, but will take to the dais in their own communities. What a heartbreaking, tragic loss for her family. What a tragic loss for the small community she worked to protect from political and environmental harm.”
Cliff Willmeng, a former Lafayette resident and a force behind ECBU, and I finally connected after multiple attempts. It was that important.
“We initially met Tonya because my kids were playing in the park adjacent to our house. And [the Briggs] were having a birthday party there. We had no idea who they were, but my kids were intrigued by it. So she and her family just invited us to the party. I didn’t initially get to know Tonya through political activism or environmentalism. While I eventually worked very closely with her on those things, it was at this event that I met her and her family, these extremely warm and inviting people.
She had a very strong level of concern and deep conviction. I believe that for her, East Boulder County United represented more passionate people with a lot of resolution, grit, and determination.”
Jenna Tullberg, who ran on the same ECBU slate as Tonya, sent us this statement:
“This past year and a half has absolutely thrown me a shitstorm that would have crushed a younger me! I’ve survived bc [sic] I remind myself it’s not what’s thrown at you but how you handle it! I’ve also learned that feelings are not mutually exclusive. I can be angry about a dear friend passing, grateful they didn’t go in pain or fear, and happy that I was lucky enough to have known them.
Unfortunately, right now, it’s not making their passing hurt any less…
When you are blessed with someone in your life whose sheer presence and light make you strive to be a better person, their loss hits you like a dump truck!
Someone once told me a soulmate is someone who comes into your life and changes the person you become. Tonya Briggs was more than just a soulmate to me. She was a soulmate to anyone who was blessed to meet her. This is a significant heartbreaking loss for our community and will be felt for decades.”
Longtime Lafayette resident and “city watchdog” Karen Korback requested a town parade at the September 19th City Council meeting — one that Tonya had always hoped to create.
“What does one say at a time like this? Finding the right words seems impossible. We have lost someone very special way too soon. I watched Tonya grow into a fine city councilor because her heart and her humanity came through in everything she did.
I remember when she cried during a workshop discussion about helping the community deal with COVID-19. I remember when she broke down as she backed off her work to stop pet stores selling puppies after she listened to the breeders who came to speak. She told them through sobs that she heard them. It takes a special kind of person to make that adjustment in the moment. She took everything to heart; in fact, the phrase wearing your heart on your sleeve could have been written about her.
She cared deeply about this community and did her very best to represent us all. Out of all the councilors I have seen over the years, Tonya was the one who most closely shared my views about so many issues, especially when it came to animals. I didn’t need to contact her to make my case on anything. She was already making the same case on her own.
In fact, the last time we spoke was after your September 5th meeting when I talked about bringing back the parade. She called me and said she and Doug were just talking about a parade for Lafayette. They had marched in the Louisville parade, and she wanted our community to enjoy the same experience. She wanted details of how it used to be done. She said she had planned to bring it up in a future budget discussion. We talked about it being planned by some of our art committees with members of the public involved and making it a cultural celebration, too. It would be a great way to honor her memory and her fun-loving side if we could indeed fulfill her wish for a parade and make sure it had lots of animals, including pigs, of course, and perhaps led by some of our local young dancers, especially her daughters.
My heart goes out to her family and friends and I thank them for sharing her with the rest of us over the last few years while juggling family responsibilities, running a successful business, and fostering a never-ending procession of animals.
I am sure I am echoing the thoughts of many others when I say my heart is broken. She will be missed. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know what a caring and thoughtful person she was.”
I spoke to cousins Laurie, Melinda, and Uncle Rick, who all recalled fond memories of growing up.
“She was always happy. She’d laugh a lot, kind of a weird laugh, but she always laughed,” Rick recalled.
Pam (PJ) Mattorano spoke through tears at the service and sent us this sentiment.
“Volunteering at the American Legion Post 111 in Louisville is where I met Tracy Tonya’s mom.
I was introduced to Tonya and her family. Finley (Fin Fin), her youngest daughter, we became fast best friends!
Tonya’s two older daughters (Haddie and Bailey) became a part of our posts circle. Then along came the rest of her family, Sarah, her best friend, and from there, our friendships blossomed.
Tonya was a firecracker, that’s for sure!
One of the most confident and organized people I’ve ever met!
She was a great mother and friend.
When Tonya learned that I was estranged from my daughter, it sincerely and truly broke her heart. She could see my pain as she reassured me that I’m a good person and, from what she could tell, a good mom and grandma.
Without skipping a beat, [she] stated, ‘My girls love you, and you can be a part of our family… We all love PJ!’ Tonya went all out to help make my 60th birthday special.
All of her family was there, as well as Sarah and her husband, to celebrate me. There is a void in this world now…it is felt by so many that someone very special is gone from our sight….but she lives on in our hearts forever.”
Sarah Iwanski, one of her closest friends, was able to provide a written statement. But it wasn’t easy, the grief has been intense.
“I have so many wonderful, funny memories. It’s impossible to narrow it down to just one.
Tonya was dynamic and gave it all to everything she did, including hanging out with friends. She loved creatures, humans, and the environment. She showed this in how she chose to spend her limited spare time.
She was actively involved with several rescues, environmental groups, and the city council. If someone called her and said that they had a problem with anything, she would gladly go meet them for coffee. She was endlessly giving.
If you were lucky enough to be her friend, you were very lucky.
On one of my birthdays, we went to Blackhawk. She didn’t realize her driver’s license had expired the month before, so they wouldn’t allow her to go to the restaurant on the casino floor. She went to the room while we all had dinner so my dinner wouldn’t be ruined. We snuck her onto the casino floor later, lol.
When I saw two pigs listed online for free, in what looked like not-so-great conditions, she was actually on vacation. I messaged her, and I sent her the pics. I said I can’t leave these pigs there, but I can’t have two pigs. She said, ‘No, you have to go get them.’ Then she said, ‘if you go get them and you keep them at your house for a few days when I get home from vacation, I will take them,’ and that’s how she got her two pigs. I actually have my pig Twinkie because of her.
She tried to be sure that she wasn’t using plastic, unethically sourced paper products, or cleaning products that hurt the environment. I honestly had no idea reusable gift wrap was a thing. It is. We’ve never been to a concert where we didn’t meet a new friend. We’ve never had a girl’s night or a girl’s trip that wasn’t filled with laughs. Although, there was the one time she kept us up until three in the morning bitching about Polis, which we now laugh about. The world will be a dimmer place without her in it. I will greatly miss my friend.”
Tonya’s mother, Tracy Liekhus, invited me to a family service on Saturday, September 30th, 2023, at the American Legions Hall, where the entire family is members. The day was beautiful, and well over 200 people were in attendance, including Congressman Joe Neguse’s office staff. Part of the service was to present Doug Briggs with the flag flying over the Capitol and a certificate from the State House of Representatives.
Congressmen Joe Neguse’s office sent this statement in;
“I join countless members of our community in honoring the memory of Lafayette Councilmember Tonya Briggs. My wife Andrea and I are sending our deepest condolences to her family and friends. She will long be remembered for her spirit of service and her tireless commitment to our community,” said Rep. Neguse.
Despite the overwhelming grief Tracy was experiencing, it was quite apparent how much she loved her daughter.
“It’s taken me 11 days to write an obituary. And so I just had to force myself. The phone has been ringing nonstop day and night.”
She continued, “First and foremost, Tonya was a family person. She loved those girls. She was so proud of them for everything they did. Anything the girls were into, whether it was volleyball or soccer, she was right there cheering them on. Helping out, driving here and there, helping parents with their kids, getting them scooted around, bringing treats. Whatever she did, she was all there. It wasn’t a halfway thing with Tonya; it was all or nothing.”
Lastly, I spoke to Doug Briggs, Tonya’s husband. I admired him for his frank talk but also for the warm memories he shared. We even found a few minutes to laugh, like over how they met.
Tonya lived in the same apartment complex, and he would notice her coming and going. Finally, one day, they were both in the alley taking out the trash, and he decided to go for it and ask her out. He had these neighbors who liked to party and always had their doors open. They invited him and Tonya in for a drink, where she saw these kittens on the third-floor porch in a box being neglected.
“She actually married me after she realized I was dumb enough to do as I was told. I lived on the bottom floor, and they invited us in for drinks, and suddenly she spotted that there were two little kittens on the balcony, with cigarette butts in moldy food and no freaking water out on that balcony. Then, when we left the party, she told me, ‘You need to go get them.’ Of course, I say, I’ll get them tomorrow.
So the next day, I throw a backpack on, and when I see them [the neighbors] walk down the alley, I walk outside. I can see through the slats that the kittens are still on that balcony from the night before. So, I freaking shimmy up the building onto the third-floor balcony, put the freaking cats in the backpack, and climb back down. She says one of the kittens is more traumatized. She tells me we have to keep her.
So I did as I was told and shimmied up the side of an apartment building to rescue these kittens, and she knew right there that’s when she would marry me.”
He continued, “And the pigs! She was smart about it. She never asked me if we could have pigs. She knew I would say no, so she just brought them home. Then there is the Tide detergent. I would beg, do we have to wash my work clothes in that hippy shit? Can we please have some Tide? The other day, I realized we were out of laundry soap, and you know what I bought? The hippy shit.
She ran the business, too. I feel some guilt I didn’t learn more of that stuff, but I am grateful that, you know, it isn’t always easy in relationships over 20 years, I am grateful we were good when she passed. We were in a good place, so I am grateful I am not living with words I regretted.
And my kids, I have to take care of my kids more than anything else. They are speaking up, too, telling me their feelings and stuff. She taught them well.
I have 21 Moms over the next 21 days helping me. Somebody’s here at eight o’clock to read books and stories to my kids. I just can’t believe how much people are helping. It really touches me.”
People loved Tonya for all she gave, for genuinely caring about the world around her, and for stopping to listen and care for others. If we all practice what she did, we could help her make the world a better place too.
There is a Celebration of Tonya’s Life at local community member Rachel Swift Cook’s house on Monday, October 16th, 2023, from 5:30-8:00 p.m.
Potluck style, drinks, bonfire. They are asking people to bring their favorite picture of Tonya with a 3×5 note card telling the story of the picture or something they want to share in an envelope so we can keep them together. They will then make a memory book for the family.
All are invited to pay respects to Tonya Briggs, Mother, Wife, Daughter, Cousin, Niece, Sister, Neighbor, Badass Extraordinaire. Please RSVP to email@example.com for the address, but please provide your name and contact info.
City of Lafayette Official Statement
City of Lafayette Councilmember Tonya Briggs passes away
It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of Lafayette Councilor Tonya Briggs, who passed away suddenly on Saturday, September 16, 2023, in Lafayette, Colorado. Tonya was a beloved member of our community, and her absence will be deeply felt by all who knew her. She was 44.
Born on March 2, 1979, Tonya has been a fixture in Lafayette for over 14 years and in Boulder County for most of her life. She leaves behind her husband, Doug, and their three daughters, Bailey, Haddie, and Finley, all of whom will miss her dearly.
“Tonya left a lasting impression on our community through her selflessness, determination, and devotion to improving the lives of others. Her contributions will be remembered for years to come,” said Mayor Mangat.
Tonya was first elected in 2019 to serve two years and was re-elected to a four-year term in 2021. An active member of the Lafayette City Council, she served as Council liaison on the Human Rights Commission, Lafayette Open Space Advisory Committee, Historic Preservation Board, and Waste Reduction Advisory Committee during her tenure. She also served on the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport Community Noise Roundtable, Louisville / Lafayette Meeting, and as an alternate on the Colorado Municipal League Policy Committee. Her dedication to public service and her community was unwavering.
In addition to her work on City Council, Tonya was also a successful businesswoman. Alongside her husband, she ran a small family plumbing business, Around The Clog, for over 12 years. Before that, she worked in accounting and held a technical certificate in horticultural and greenhouse management.
Tonya’s passion for animals and the environment was evident in all aspects of her life. She worked closely with a large animal sanctuary and Mother Gaia Rescue, fostering numerous animals at her home. In lieu of flowers and to honor her love for animals, the family asks that donations be made to the organizations listed below in her memory.
Tonya Briggs was a kind, compassionate, and dedicated member of our community. She will be sorely missed, but her legacy will continue to inspire us all. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family during this difficult time.