A celebration of the life of Greg Giovanazzi, former Olympic women's volleyball coach who also led programs at three area colleges, will be held Saturday at Towson University from noon to 3 p.m. Giovanazzi, 54, died in his sleep Monday after suffering from debilitating migraine headaches for more than half of his life.
The memorial service will be informal, per his request, Deb Giovanazzi said.
"We're asking people to wear Hawaiian shirts, sun dresses and flip-flops," his wife said. "That was Greg, all the way. He got robbed, leaving us at 54, but this is a man who lived a very full and rich life."
A native Californian, Giovanazzi played on UCLA's NCAA title team in 1976 and helped coach the U.S. women to a bronze medal in Barcelona in 1992. For seven years, he was head coach of Michigan's women's team, until his health declined.
Seeking help for the headaches, from which he struggled for decades, Giovanazzi moved his family to Baltimore. He served as volunteer head women's coach at Loyola, UMBC and, most recently, Johns Hopkins. In 2008, he led Hopkins to a 20-7 mark and the Centennial Conference semifinals.
Soft-spoken and laid-back, Giovanazzi connected with his players, who clung to his sayings.
"The harder you go," he'd tell them, "the more your teammates can trust you."
He said that volleyball tempered the pain of the headaches, which he traced to a number of concussions he'd had while playing sports in his youth.
"I'm never pain-free, but coaching motivates me to get out of bed, manage my depression and start the healing process," he told The Sun in 2008. "It gives me reason to continue. That might sound dramatic, but . . . I don't want to miss time with my players. I want them to have the opportunity to be the best they can be."
Giovanazzi, who lived in Catonsville, left Hopkins in 2009 but continued, for two years, to coach his daughter Casey's youth club team in Columbia. She now attends the University of South Florida on a volleyball scholarship.
"Greg loved coaching young kids as much as he did the Olympians," said Deb Giovanazzi, vice-president of student affairs at Towson University.
For two years, he'd taken part in a study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy at Boston University. His family has donated Giovanazzi's brain and spinal cord to science for research.
"For someone who'd been in such pain, for so much of his life, there's some comfort in knowing that Greg died peacefully," his wife said.
Giovanazzi's "Life Is Good" celebration will be held at the university's West Village Commons, at Towsontown Boulevard and Emerson Drive.