Grateful students, family, friends and principals gathered Wednesday to honor and celebrate the life of David Legaspi III.
The memorial service was as vibrant and lively as Legaspi himself. More than 200 were in attendance.
Best known for brightening school campuses and homes of across Los Angeles with colorful, vivid murals of marine life, nature and history, Legaspi was treasured for his generosity and mentorship.
"He'd just look at you and say 'hey you wanna paint?' Then he'd flip his hair back, show you the brushstrokes, and you'd be there painting for an hour… or maybe even a few days," said Chi Kim, who worked with Lepaspi when she was principal of Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School in Malibu.
Legaspi died of a heart attack June 5. He was 51.
Friends and family spoke Wednesday of his selfless spirit, ebullient personality and talent.
"The love that radiated out of that man, it was so palpable… you just couldn't miss it," said Webster Elementary School Principal Phil Cott.
It was at Webster Elementary in Malibu where Legaspi painted his first school mural. He ultimately worked with principals across West Los Angeles—including in Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice and Culver City—and the San Fernando Valley.
Born in the Philippines, Legaspi was the oldest of five siblings. He began drawing at an early age under the instruction of his uncle. Never shy, he spent much of his youth singing and dancing to the rock ‘n’ roll hit The Twist, his mother Letty Legaspi said.
He earned a bachelor’s in architecture from the University of St. Thomas, Philippines before working professionally in the field. He also spent time as a visual designer, merchandiser and publicity artist for the U.S. Army & Air Force Exchange Service at the Clark Air Force Base, Philippines, and the Royal AirForce, Upper Heyford in England. In 1993, he started working full-time as a freelance artist and muralist, first in Sydney, and then in Los Angeles. He returned to architecture while working at CBMG Management Group in Santa Monica from 1999 to 2002.
Wednesday’s ceremony at Santa Monica High School opened with an original song written about Legaspi—who played guitar—titled, "One Small Voice," and performed by Webster Elementary students. To honor his love of music, friends and pianists Gavin and Joanne Martin played a piece by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Stories were shared of Legaspi's projects, one of which was to paint the bathrooms of Roosevelt Elementary School in Santa Monica to discourage children from trashing the stalls and plastering spit wads on the ceiling. With the help of parents and children, he transformed the space with paintings of dragons, mermaids and other mythical creatures.
Much of his work was pro-bono, and he spent proceeds from private commissions on public mural projects. School principals said Legaspi's work did more than spruce up their campuses, it excited the children, too.
Legaspi’s favorite mementos were on display: a framed "thank you" from the United States Surfing Association, a color wheel and buckets of paintbrushes, and two surfboards.
In a slideshow, Legaspi was pictured donning his painting uniform: a bandana—which kept his long black locks in check—a worn leather jacket, t-shirt and a pair of faded blue jeans, covered with paint splatters of just about every color. There were a few snapshots of him actually painting, but those who worked on murals with him said he preferred pictures to be taken of the children who worked alongside him, insisting that the final product was every bit theirs as it was his.
Legaspi's mother and uncle travelled from Australia to present the memorial’s closing remarks. Neither had seen Legaspi in six years.
"This is a very sad and happy moment in my life," Letty Legaspi said. "Sad because David is gone and I can no longer hear his voice or laughter, but happy because I see so many people loved my baby. I did not know he had touched so many hearts."
Correction: Webster Elementary School Principal Phil Cott was incorrectly identified as John Cott in the original version of this story.