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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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A quiet dentist let his deeds do the talking
He was a loving family man, a world traveler and a compassionate professional.
By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published November 25, 2007
TAMPA - He was the straight-talking dentist. She was the hygienist with a knack for getting personal with patients.
For 34 years, Joseph and Sylvia Espinola worked side by side.
They stayed out of each other's way. She always addressed him as "Dr. Espinola." The way she figured, he had earned the title.
But at home, he was just Joe.
* * *
When Joseph Espinola was a teenager, he had a tooth extracted. He found the whole thing interesting.
He could have managed his father's bar in Tampa, but instead, he went to dental school and joined the Army.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he got deployed to Miami with nothing but a Jeep, a driver and a dental tool chest. When the Vietnam War came along, he did dental work on soldiers before they shipped out.
Back home in Tampa, he opened a practice. Years later, a hygienist named Sylvia joined the staff. She didn't warm to Dr. Espinola right away - he didn't know how to communicate and she loved to talk.
But they had things in common. They both came from Cuban cigarmaking families. Dr. Espinola was already friends with her family. And her first husband had fought and died in Vietnam. One day, he caught her speaking Spanish in the office.
"I didn't know you could speak Spanish," he said. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"You never asked me."
* * *
In more than 40 years, he saw generations of patients, said Sylvia Espinola. Families appreciated his honesty and conservative treatment methods.
He understood financial situations, his family said. Once, a woman came in with a broken down tooth. He told her it needed a crown, but tried first to fill it for her.
Dr. Espinola was an introvert, his wife the opposite. On a trip to Utah, he heard her gabbing in the middle of nowhere. "You can talk to rocks," he teased.
He was understated at home, too. He had three children from another marriage, and one with Mrs. Espinola, now 61. If the kids made a bad choice, he figured they'd learn the hard way. He loved them openly, kissing and hugging even his boys.
Women loved Dr. Espinola, who could charm with just a few words. He often outshopped his wife and would buy five shirts at a time. He went through color phases - pink, then blue, then red. He had shoes for every outfit.
He was passionate about history and Hispanic culture, and thirsted to see the rest of the world. In 2000, he achieved a lifetime dream of going to China.
"He was enthralled," said his wife. "He was amazed at all these things he had read about all his life."
At 10,000 feet on a ski trip, Dr. Espinola struggled to breathe. Twenty five years ago, he quit smoking forever.
But still, emphysema came, and reality flipped a switch. After a lifetime of barely speaking, 10 years ago, he became gregarious and chatty.
"I think he realized that he was getting older and that he had to grab the most out of life that he possibly could when he could," said Mrs. Espinola.
He swore he would die by the dental chair. But three years ago, he sold the practice to focus on his health and family.
If he was sad, he never said it. He kept that to himself.
Survivors: wife, Sylvia; children, Trina, Myra, Joseph and Caton Espinola; mother, Magdalena Fraga Espinola; sisters, Christina Diaz and Elda Vigil; grandchildren, Austin and Troy Stannius and Caton, Joseph and Zachary Espinola; nieces, nephews and cousins.
Services: Visitation at 6 p.m. and Mass at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Lawrence Catholic Church, 5225 Himes Ave. N. Graveside service 10 a.m. Thursday, Garden of Memories Cemetery, 4207 E Lake Ave.