The world shared a group hug in honor of Leo Buscaglia |

The world shared a group hug in honor of Leo Buscaglia

Denise Sloan

No one could have choreographed a worldwide group hug. Except Dr. Leo Buscaglia.

It was Buscaglia’s lifelong message of love and acceptance that culminated in people from more than 50 countries gathering in spirit on Saturday evening to dedicate that sunset to his memory.

Locally, hundreds of Buscaglia’s friends, family and supporters crowded on the lawn at Valhalla Saturday to remember him, to share their “favorite Leo story” and to say goodbye to a cherished friend.

On June 12, Buscaglia died of a heart attack at his home at Lake Tahoe. At 74, the Southern California native of Italian immigrant parents, had spent his entire life loving and teaching others how to love and be loved.

Those who knew Buscaglia, also knew that one of life’s greatest joys to him was food. At the Tallac Historic Site, long banquet tables groaned under the weight of his favorite dishes, prepared by friends and family. It was with a heavy blend of joy and sorrow that nearly 300 people hugged and laughed and ate and remembered that man with the twinkling eyes and the forthright message.

Dozens of people lined up at two microphones at Valhalla waiting their turn to offer a “Leo story.”

“Leo loved Lake Tahoe,” said Steven Short. “He once told me that he ‘loved Lake Tahoe so much that the only way they’re getting out of here is feet first.’

“But his message lives on in his books, his teachings and his life affirming speaking style on TV and video,” Short added.

One friend offered “Love never dies as long as there is someone who remembers.”

Buscaglia once said: “Death is very democratic – none of us will get out of this alive.”

But with his signature exuberant style, he never left a thought on a negative note. His pragmatic view of death was wrapped in a lovely bow.

“God’s gift to you is life itself,” Buscaglia said repeatedly. “What you do with it is your gift back to God.”

One relative described Buscaglia as “a cross between Auntie Mame and the Dalai Lama.”

Another said “this man was way to big for the world. It just couldn’t contain him.”

It was a party Leo would have loved – exotic flowers flown in from Hawaii decorated the many tables, food and wine flowed, while enlarged portraits of his engaging face lined the grassy party.

As the sun dropped behind the Sierra peaks, necks were hugged, tears were dabbed and resolutions were made in in the hearts and minds of people around the world, what they will do to carry on Buscaglia’s messages of love.

A tireless supporter of the Tahoe Tallac Association and the creation of the Valhalla Boathouse Theater, Buscaglia hosted annual galas called “An Evening with Leo & Friends.” This year’s event was to be held Aug. 1. Even though Buscaglia has died, a special event on that same evening is currently being organized by his friends and family.

Contributions in his memory may be made to The Felice Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Buscaglia to enhance the spirit of giving, at P.O. Box 599, Glenbrook, Nev. 89413.

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