David LaGraffe, a beloved teacher at Hall Elementary School in Portland who shared his passion for acting and improvisation with students, died Wednesday of a hemorrhagic stroke. He was 72.

Mr. LaGraffe was founder and artistic director of Portland Playback Theatre Company and owner of Lights Up Improv, a school of improvisation in Portland. He dedicated his life to the arts and worked tirelessly to enrich the lives of those around him, according to friends and family.

Mr. LaGraffe, of South Portland, was remembered Friday as a funny, brave and thoughtful man who loved life and lived it to its fullest.

His teaching career spanned more than 30 years. He taught at several Portland schools, including Breakwater School, Lyseth School, King Middle School and most recently Hall Elementary School. There, he taught in its Many Rivers program, teaching students in grades 3-5.

His former colleagues shared stories Friday of his passion for teaching and how he brought life and laughter to his classrooms. He was known to put on a cape and enter his classroom singing the lesson of the day to his students. One colleague said they danced “The Odyssey.” Another teacher said his imitations made her laugh hard.

“Acting was definitely his gift, which he passed on to his students,” said Valerie Vassar, a fifth-grade teacher at Hall Elementary School. “Most everything we did culminated in some form of acting. The students loved him. He loved everyone. Every kid. … It didn’t matter who you were, you were loved by Mr. LaGraffe.”

He retired from teaching and immersed himself in acting and improv. In 2005, he founded Portland Playback Theatre Company, where he served as artistic director and conductor. According to its website, the performances create a venue for individuals to share significant events and experiences, and through the art of improvisation, witness their immediate enactment. Shows are held on the first and third Friday of every month.

Grace Cleaves, business manager at Portland Playback, said Mr. LaGraffe was a brilliant strategist, whose creativity drove the success of the company.

“David was amazingly present, unconventionally playful,” Cleaves said. “He was the master of love. He was very tender man, … tender to the bone. He wanted more than anything else for people to feel alive and to make a difference.”

Mr. LaGraffe operated Lights Up Improv in Portland and taught improv classes for more than 20 years. His wife said he taught two to three times a week.

“He was so madly in love with improv,” said his wife, Claudia Hughes.

She reflected on their life together Friday, saying he was the light of her life. The couple would have celebrated their 30th anniversary in July.

“I’m missing him so much,” she said. “Everything in this house is him. I see him everywhere. … It’s going to be a huge loss for a lot of people. He changed a lot of people’s lives.”

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