Leo Buscaglia, Educator and Author, Dies at 74
Author-lecturer Leo Buscaglia – known internationally as “The Love Doctor” and “Dr. Hug” – died of a heart attack Thursday, June 11, at his home in Glenbrook, Nev., near Lake Tahoe. He was 74.
The author of a series of best-selling books on loving and human relationships, Buscaglia was a professor of special education and counseling at the School of Education for nearly 20 years.
In academic year 1969-70, he taught a self-actualization course at USC. The premise of Love 1A was that love leads people gently back to themselves. The course earned Buscaglia the title of “Teacher of the Year” and begot Love – the first in a long series of best-sellers, including Personhood, Loving Each Other and Fall of Freddie the Leaf.
“I have been a teacher … all my life,” Buscaglia said in a 1985 interview with the
Los Angeles Times. “I have an intense passion to share with people. Our only salvation is in knowledge, in learning…. If there is place where learning is not taking place, we have to do something to make it better.”
Buscaglia spoke of the need to make the teaching profession more attractive to young people, both financially and as a steady, fulfilling career. “I know that sounds hopeful,” he said, “but all my work is hopeful. There’s no such thing as being too optimistic.”
He also spoke of the need to individualize teaching for each student. “My definition of education,” he said, “is helping each person to find his or her uniqueness and share it with others.”
“The entire university mourns the passing of a truly great friend and pioneer in his field,” said Guilbert C. Hentschke, dean of the School of Education. “Leo Buscaglia has been contributing to USC – as a student, alumnus, faculty member and scholarship donor – for more than 40 years. He will be missed by many, many people.”
Buscaglia was born March 31, 1924. The son of Italian immigrants, he was reared in Los Angeles and didn’t learn to speak English until he entered primary school. His teachers mistook his fumbling language skills for mental retardation and placed him in a special-education class. Under the tutelage of a caring teacher, he learned English and a lesson in compassion that would eventually lead him into a career as a speech therapist in Los Angeles-area public schools.
At USC, Buscaglia earned a bachelor’s degree in English and speech (1950), a master’s degree in language and speech pathology (1954) and a Ph.D. in language and speech pathology (1963). He also earned three teaching credentials from the university.
Buscaglia served as supervisor of special education in Pasadena City Schools from 1960 to 1965. He then joined the USC School of Education faculty and taught special education and counseling at the university until 1984. After retiring from teaching, he served on the School of Education’s board of councilors.
In 1989, Buscaglia gave real estate valued at $500,000 to USC. Part of that gift funded the Leo F. Buscaglia Scholarship for Inner City Teacher Education, a four-year, full-tuition scholarship awarded to outstanding graduates of Crenshaw, Fremont, Manual Arts, Roosevelt and Jefferson high schools in Los Angeles. After earning a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential at USC, Buscaglia Scholarship recipients must teach for at least two years in an inner-city high school.
In addition to writing books and teaching and lecturing, Bus-caglia wrote a syndicated column, “Living, Loving and Learning,” and produced a number of programs for public television.
In a 1985 interview with the Knight-Ridder Newspapers, he said, “I would like my tombstone to read: ‘Here lies Leo Buscaglia, who died living.’ ”
Contributions may be sent in his name to the Leo F. Buscaglia Scholarship for Inner City Teacher Education, USC School of Education, WPH 103, Los Angeles 90089-0031.
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