tampabay.com

He was always either learning or teaching

To illustrate the circulatory system, he gave his middle school son a heart to take to school.

By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published January 31, 2008


TAMPA - When he was 5, Christopher Phelps announced he wanted to be a military flight surgeon.

When he was an Eagle Scout, he took camping trips to Vermont and rescued injured animals in the woods.

When he started raising Mexican swordtail fish in college to study the effects of tank crowding on their ovaries, he became enthralled by research.

When he went on a blind date, he met his wife, Betty Phelps. After the date, he pursued her. She exposed him to swimming and snorkeling and Florida living.

When she went to Italy for two semesters, he wrote letters and called. They married two weeks after she graduated from college.

When they went to Woodstock, they sat hours in traffic. When he realized they'd have to park and leave his beloved 1963 Corvette unattended, he left.

When he joined the University of South Florida's College of Medicine in 1976, he never left. He eventually became chairman of the department of anatomy.

When they decided to have kids - Jessica, now 29, and Adam, now 24 - Dr. Phelps had already earned his doctorate and spent nine years married to his wife.

When his kids were sick, he'd explain exactly why they felt bad.

When the Phelps family ate dinner, conversations ranged from art and literature to things Dr. Phelps had read in his daily New York Times.

When Adam was in middle school, Dr. Phelps gave him a show-and-tell display for the circulatory system lesson - a human heart.

When Jessica was in high school, he arranged for her anatomy class to take a field trip to study human cadavers.

When his kids got mediocre grades, he'd raise an eyebrow, wondering if they were meeting their potential.

When he parked at USF, students recognized him - he was always in that 1963 Corvette.

Whenever possible, he'd mentor medical and graduate students and take local high school kids on tours of his laboratory.

When colleagues or students had heated discussions, he'd use his calm, measured personality to mediate. He always found a consensus.

When his wife, 60, suggested retirement, he balked. He was happy teaching. But it ended when Dr. Phelps had a massive heart attack. He died Sunday at age 64.

When his wife reflects, she understands why he never slowed down.

"When you love what you're doing," she said, "there's no point in stopping."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or 727 893-8857.

BIOGRAPHY

Christopher Phelps

Born: July 6, 1943.

Died: Jan. 27, 2008.

Survivors: Wife, Betty Phelps; children, Adam and Jessica Phelps; mother, Alta Phelps; brothers, Lee and Daniel Phelps.

Services: Visitation from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Loyless Funeral Home, 5310 Land O'Lakes Blvd. Celebration of life at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Harvester United Methodist Church, 2432 Collier Parkway.