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Doctor, gardener, husband and father

Fred Vizzi was all of those. He spoke three languages, worked in three hospitals and - with his wife - raised nine children.

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 13, 2002

It made sense that Dr. Ferdinando "Fred" Vizzi spent much of his retirement giving away cuttings of his garden plants.

He spent decades tending to and caring for others. Raising hundreds of plants to give to family and friends was a natural way to keep his caregiving nature alive.

Dr. Vizzi, who for 40 years practiced internal medicine in Tampa hospitals and sat on the board of trustees at St. Joseph's Hospital, died Saturday (Sept. 7, 2002) from heart failure. He was 73.

"Everybody liked him," said Isaac Mallah, St. Joseph's chief executive officer who worked with Dr. Vizzi for more than 20 years. "He was very well thought of, both clinically and from an interpersonal standpoint. He was just a good guy, a real family man."

The son of a Sicilian immigrant, Dr. Vizzi was born and raised in Ybor City. He enjoyed the tight-knit community atmosphere that permeated the area in those days; later, when he practiced medicine there, he even made house calls.

He left for New Orleans and Tulane University in 1946, where he began the arduous task of becoming a doctor -- four years of college, two years for a master's degree, four years of medical school, a one-year internship and three years of residency.

Somehow, during that time, he met his future wife, Margaret, a classmate of his sister's at Tulane. The couple's first five children were born in Louisiana.

"He had an attachment by then to New Orleans but, pretty much, he had always let his family know he'd be back to Tampa one day," said Margaret Vizzi, an active member of the Beach Park homeowner association.

In 1960, he set up a practice on Davis Islands. He worked at Tampa General Hospital, but spent much of his time at two hospitals closer to home: the now-defunct Centro Asturiano Hospital on Nebraska Avenue, and St. Joseph's, which was at that time in Ybor City. He lived in Beach Park for about 40 years.

"He spoke Italian and Spanish and English," Margaret said. "That's why he had so many patients of all nationalities . . . they could relate to him."

At both St. Joseph's and Centro Asturiano, Dr. Vizzi served as chief of staff, an elected position decided upon by his fellow doctors.

"It was, I think, an indication of the respect and the esteem that he was held in by his colleagues," Mallah said.

Active in the Hillsborough County Medical Association, Dr. Vizzi was devoted to making medical care run smoothly in the Tampa Bay area, his wife said.

Margaret and Fred had four more children in Tampa, bringing the total to nine.

Two of Dr. Vizzi's children became doctors: Peter, an orthopedist in Tampa; and Frank, a gastroneurologist who died last year.

"He was certainly an inspiration," Peter Vizzi said. "He was a guiding force for me, to see him and how his patients appreciated everything he did for them. It really made me want to go into medicine."

Peter Vizzi said patients and doctors asked about his father well after he retired in March 2000.

"I can't walk down the hallway -- this is even before he passed away -- without doctors and patients recognizing my name and saying, 'Oh, are you Dr. Vizzi's son? He was my first doctor,' or 'I saw him throughout my life, and I can't believe he's retired.'

"And now that he's passed away, I can't go 10 feet without somebody stopping me and telling me how he touched their lives."

Dr. Vizzi was preceded in death by a sister, Rosalia Soto; and a son, Frank Edward Vizzi Sr. His survivors include his wife, Margaret; five sons, Bernard of Eustis, Joseph of Brandon, and Ferdinand, A.J., and Peter, all of Tampa; three daughters, Margaret Vizzi, Tampa, and Celeste Allen and Rosalie Arthur, both of Fort Lauderdale; and 20 grandchildren.

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