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He made last days a 'wonderful time'

By MARTY CLEAR, Times Correspondent
Published December 7, 2007


SUNSET PARK - Norman Chastain had no idea his death was imminent. But even if he had, he may not have planned his last days any differently.

The weeks before he died were a "wonderful time," said his wife, Mary Ann Chastain. "He got to do the three things he loved most. He went to South Dakota to hunt pheasant, he played golf and he went fishing."

Mr. Chastain returned from his final fishing trip Nov. 3. The next day, he was doing his daily exercises when he suffered a stroke. It left him severely debilitated, and he never got out of the hospital. A few weeks later, on Nov. 29, Mr. Chastain suffered a second stroke and died at age 78.

"I kind of consider the day of his first stroke the day of his death," said his son, Bill Chastain. "He was always a very active guy. He wouldn't have wanted to drag things out after he had the stroke."

Mr. Chastain was born and raised in Thomasville, Ga. His own father suffered a stroke when Mr. Chastain was about 5 years old and died six years later.

Life wasn't easy for most people in the deep South during the Depression, and it might have been even harder for a boy without a father. But Mr. Chastain's extended family worked together and got through the tough times.

"He had many people who stepped into the role of father for him," his wife said. "He came from a large family, and they're wonderful and very loving."

He met his wife while he was studying engineering at Georgia Tech and she was a student at a nearby college. At the time of his death, they had been married for 53 years.

"We knew each other for a while, and then all of a sudden he called me and asked me out," she said. "We were friends first, and that's a nice basis for a marriage."

Mr. Chastain's company transferred him to Tampa in 1959. They settled in South Tampa, where they raised their three sons.

He has always been an avid athlete, and he played center on his high school's football team, which won the Georgia state championship. He encouraged his sons' sports activities as well, and coached their teams. Even later, when his son Bill became a sports writer, he'd often ask Mr. Chastain for guidance.

"He loved sports, and that's one of the things I'm going to miss most," Bill Chastain said. "It was nothing for me to call him from some press box and ask his opinion about something."

In the 1960s, he started his own company, Norman Chastain Construction in the Port of Tampa area. The company thrived until Mr. Chastain retired and dissolved it in the 1990s.

Mr. Chastain kept active through retirement. Even into his late 70s, he could shoot eagles on the golf course and pheasants in the woods.

It was at a pond, just across the Sunshine Skyway, that Mr. Chastain spent his last healthy day.

After his first stroke, he was admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital and later transferred to Tampa General. On Thanksgiving Day, his daughter-in-law brought his beloved poodle, Bear, to the hospital to visit him. Mr. Chastain suffered a second stroke that night, and lapsed into a coma from which he never awoke.

"I'm going to miss him, because he was my best friend," Bill Chastain said. "But he led a great life, and that's what we're thinking about."

Besides his wife and his son Bill, Mr. Chastain is survived by his sons Buddy and Tom, and four grandchildren.

[Last modified December 6, 2007, 07:35:29]

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