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Big Dad's grin won't soon be forgotten

Rodney Fields, a dentist in Tampa for 36 years, is missed by his wife, son, grandchildren and scores of patients.

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 10, 2002

SUNSET PARK -- Rodney Fields was known for his big smile. Naturally, he became a dentist.

For 36 years, he gave Tampa its bite, singing to country western music as he capped teeth, filled cavities and made the pain go away.

"He hated it when he had to give up his practice. He missed his patients," said Carole Roberts Fields, his wife of nearly 44 years.

Patients missed him, too.

After he sold his Swann Avenue business in February 2001, faced with recurring cancer, his patients sent letters, cards, bottles of wine, cookies and photographs of their grandchildren.

One woman, who had gone to him for 28 years, vowed she wouldn't see another dentist.

Mr. Fields, who was known as "Big Dad" by his three grandchildren, was 66 when he died May 3 at H. Lee Moffit Cancer Center.

"My Big Dad was a great man who died too young," his youngest grandchild, Ryan, 9, told those who gathered Monday at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in downtown Tampa.

Mr. Fields, son of D. Wallace Fields, a founder of the Carlton Fields law firm, grew up in Tampa and graduated from Plant High School and Florida State University.

A dog and cat lover, he planned on becoming a veterinarian. But he didn't much care for barnyard animals so he became a dentist.

He graduated from the Medical College of Virginia Dental School and joined the Army, becoming a captain in the 82nd Airborne Division.

After that, he and his wife returned to Tampa where they raised their two sons, Rodney Jr. and Benjamin.

He was an avid hunter, fisherman and tennis player. His 24-foot Grady White fishing boat, kept at Tierra Verde, is named "Benji Boy" after the couple's youngest son who died at 23.

Mr. Fields survived three open-heart surgeries since 1980 and he thought he had beaten cancer after he lost a kidney in 1999. But he became ill again. Early last year, he sold his practice to spend as much time as possible with his wife, son, grandchildren and friends.

There were hunting and fishing trips, vacations with old friends from medical school, Gary and Sally Maynard, and a trip with the grandchildren to Disney World in March.

Mr. Fields traveled with his family to Cooperstown, N.Y., and Cartersville, Ga., to watch his oldest grandchild, Rodney III, 14, play baseball. Rodney's Little League team, Tampa Gators, won the state championship.

When Rodney Jr. was a boy, he often had a coach for a dad. Their close relationship extended into adulthood.

In January, Mr. Fields missed the annual father-son duck hunting trip to Louisiana. But he made sure his son went with their friends. At his request, Rodney Jr. telephoned nightly to tell his father about the day's hunting and Cajun dinner.

He considered his father his best friend.

The family was looking forward to their annual six-week stay at the beach in Belleair.

"He just hoped he'd get one more summer," said his wife.

In addition to his wife, son and grandchildren, he leaves two brothers, Dan and Robert, both of Tampa.

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