More than 800 people – family, friends, admiring public – came the the tribute service for Richard Abruzzo to celebrate his remarkable life. The outdoor event at the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum provided a beautifully appropriate venue for the service.
He and his racing partner Carol Rymer-Davis disappeared during the Gordon Bennett gas balloon race somewhere over the Adriatic Sea east of Italy on September 29. Despite an intense search by Italian and international rescue crews, no trace of either the balloonists or their equipment has been found.
While the family didn’t want to call this a memorial service, in truth, that’s what it was. An invocation was provided by Rev. John Cannon of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. There were moving eulogies by Richard’s two brothers, Ben and Louis, and by friends UNM ski coach George Brooks and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson.
Abruzzo, 47, was remembered as a man who lived life to the fullest, with adventure, courage, love of family and friends. He had a positive outlook, lived well, and laughed often. He had a passion for cycling, skiing (both on water and snow), mountain climbing, and ballooning. He was a fierce competitor who made everything look easy.
Brother Louis said, “He was wearing out his guardian angels. They just couldn’t keep up with him. But God had a plan for him, saying I can use your free spirit and your warm outreach to all here in heaven. I don’t have enough guardian angels to keep up with your flying, skiing, and especially your driving, Richard. And he’s still flying and watching over you.”
Friend Gary Johnson said, “Richard set the bar and made us play our ‘A’ game. Let’s pursue our own passions as a tribute to Richard and grab life by the tail.”
Some of the interesting touches at this service included a string mariachi band playing music before the event started, a color guard presenting the US and New Mexico flags, a military band performing the national anthem, Abruzzo’s hot air balloon set up next to the proceedings, and two banks of white pillar candles next to the speaker podium that family lit before the event started. Flags of Italy, the US and New Mexico flew at half-staff, and smaller flags were placed throughout the museum and grounds.
There were about 600 chairs set up, and more than 200 people stood throughout the event. Before the event started, people were asked to turn off their cell phones. The City of Albuquerque and the Balloon Museum staff were both involved in setting up this event. The service received full local media coverage.
The event concluded with the invitation, “Let’s all meander inside for a big group hug and and enjoy the balloon museum.” Inside, a screen with a photo-montage of Abruzzo’s life ran on a continuous loop. A reception was held in an upstairs room at the museum.
May Richard Abruzzo’s memory live on.