Peter Briggs Myers, a physicist, and a co-owner and developer of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a widely used personality type assessment, died peacefully at age 91, surrounded by family members in St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Towson, Md. on February 17.
Mr. Myers, a Rhodes Scholar who held a doctorate in nuclear physics from Oxford, was the son of Clarence Gates Myers and Isabel Briggs Myers, long time residents of Swarthmore and graduates of Swarthmore College. Isabel and her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs, created the MBTI instrument as a practical application of the personality type theory of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, beginning their work in the 1940s.
When Isabel Myers died in 1980, she left the copyright to the MBTI to her son Peter and his then-wife Katharine Downing Myers. At the time of Isabel Myers’s death, the instrument was not yet widely known, although she had worked on its development for more than forty years with support from the Educational Testing Service.
Peter and Katharine, who both grew up in Swarthmore and attended Swarthmore High School, spent the next several decades ensuring the scientific rigor and overseeing the continued development of the assessment, along with the publisher CPP, Inc., now based in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Today the MBTI instrument has been taken by millions of people around the world to help them better understand themselves and others, and is in use by 88 of the Fortune 100 companies. The instrument has been translated into more than 25 languages and its use overseas has grown rapidly in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand.
Peter and Katharine helped to fund the Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT), in Gainesville, Florida, a nonprofit started by Isabel Myers and Mary McCaulley, and it continues to provide research and training in the use of the MBTI. They also established a non-profit, the Myers & Briggs Foundation, that funds research on Type and its application.
Imposing, at 6’4” tall with a soft, measured voice and a slow speaking delivery, Peter often gave speeches on type at conferences and worked closely with the publisher of the MBTI well into his eighties.
He was born on April 24, 1926 in Washington, D.C. He enrolled in George Washington University before enrolling in a Navy program for engineers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He spent seven months on a Navy submarine, the USS Sanborn, and later entered Lincoln College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar in September 1947, earning his doctorate in Nuclear Physics from Oxford in 1950.
His time in Oxford in the period immediately following the war made a lasting impression, and he remained in contact with Lincoln College. Professor Henry R. Woudhuysen, the Rector of Lincoln College at Oxford, said in a letter to the family that Peter’s eminence in his scientific research career, his involvement in and affection for Lincoln College, as well as his generosity to it, led Lincoln to elect him to a Murray Fellowship in 1998. This was a new type of award for the College, and Peter was one of the three founding members of the Fellowship.
Professor Woudhuysen said Peter was “a wonderful man, full of interest and very generous with his knowledge and experience, kind and gentle.” He added that Peter’s “affection for and support of Lincoln were greatly appreciated.”
Peter was highly influenced by his maternal grandfather, Lyman J. Briggs, a physicist who served as a scientific advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt and was appointed director of the National Bureau of Standards by him in 1933. Roosevelt also appointed Mr. Briggs as chair of an Advisory Committee on Uranium, linked to the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. Lyman Briggs College of Michigan State University is named for Peter’s grandfather.
Peter married Elizabeth “Betty” Monk on July 28, 1948, and began work as a physicist on transistors and semiconductor devices in the Switching Research Department of the Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. The couple later moved to southern California where Peter was employed by Magnavox Research Laboratories for more than ten years, working on radio and satellite navigation. They divorced in 1971.
Peter soon married Katharine Downing Heisler, his high school sweetheart, and in 1973 moved to the Washington, D.C., area where he had been reassigned by Magnavox to head a research group. He then joined the National Academy of Sciences, where he served as Director of the Board on Radioactive Waste Management. In that capacity, he was responsible for all activities related to management and long-term storage of nuclear waste from both commercial and defense activities until his retirement in the 1990s.
When his mother developed cancer, Peter Myers helped author her main book on Type, Gifts Differing. The book offers an in-depth explanation of the MBTI’s 16 personality types. He also cared for his father, known as “Chief,” a partner in the Philadelphia law firm of Duane Morris, and the borough solicitor of Swarthmore. The town named Myers Avenue after Chief.
An avid sailor, Peter grew up sailing on Lake George in upstate New York, and in recent years sailed the Chesapeake on his beloved wooden ketch, “Sea Cloud.” He loved the wilderness: He was an Eagle Scout as a youth and for many years was a Sierra Club leader, leading many river trips down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. He contributed generously to multiple charities throughout his life and is leaving a large bequest to Oxford University.
He once rescued Albert Einstein on Saranac Lake in Massachusetts, as described in Katharine and Isabel, Mother’s Light, Daughter’s Journey, The Story of the Making of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator by Frances Wright Saunders. Peter had taken a canoe out on the lake when the water became choppy and he noticed a small sailboat with a single sailor who was desperately trying to lower the sail. Peter paddled up next to the man and held the tiller, allowing the man to lower the sail. When the man turned around, he realized to his delight it was his hero Albert Einstein. Peter paddled both of them to shore with Einstein holding the bow of the canoe after which Einstein invited him back to their cottage to dry out and have a cup of tea. Einstein turned out to know Peter’s grandfather, the physicist Lyman J. Briggs.
Peter leaves behind his son, Jonathan Briggs Myers, a coffee grower in Hawaii, and two daughters, Jennifer Myers Yerkes, a homemaker in West Chester, Pa., and Michele Heisler, a physician and professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He also leaves three stepchildren, Roly, Hugh and Katie Heisler, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
His niece and nephew, Kathleen Hughes, a freelance writer and former staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and Douglas Hughes, a lawyer, also survive him. They are the children of Peter’s sister, Ann Myers Hughes, who died in 1972. He is also survived by his partner, Jane “Emma” Mannes, who lived with him in his last years at Blakehurst Retirement Center in Towson, Md.
In keeping with Mr. Myers’s request, the family is planning a private service.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Myers & Briggs Foundation, 2815 NW 13th St. Suite 401, Gainesville, FL. Phone: 352-373-5670.