Medicine dept. chair remembered as compassionate educator

Colleagues and students of Christopher P. Phelps, a man known throughout the College of Medicine (COM) as a leader, mentor and friend, were stricken with grief after learning of his death on Jan. 27 from a massive heart attack. He was 64 years old.

For the past 30 years since his move from California to Tampa, Phelps drove his 1963 Chevrolet Corvette to and from campus. The auto enthusiast spent three years renovating the car, which was originally painted gold, repainting the exterior midnight blue.

After coming to the University in 1976, Phelps served as an assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy – now the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology – in COM. From 1998 to 2001, he served as the interim chair of the department, and later as chair from 2001 to 2006.

During the past year, Phelps served on the COM Curriculum Committee as the faculty leader for first-year medical school curriculum, acting as an intermediary between course directors and the Curriculum Committee.

Samuel Saporta recalled Phelps’ efforts to improve the COM.

“He took over at a time when the (University) was looking for some direction,” he said. “He helped it figure out where to go and how to get there.”

Phelps brought faculty and administration together to overhaul the first-year curriculum, instituting a program that, according to Saporta, is still in place today.

“It was a huge responsibility – really a Herculean effort,” he said. “Chris tried to create a curriculum that was integrated longitudinally; he wanted all classes to overlap with each other.”

Saporta said Phelps brought him to USF in 1977 from UCLA, where the two had known each other. Over the past three decades, the colleagues remained close friends.

What friends and colleagues describe as Phelps’ passion for educating did not diminish after he left campus. He was an avid supporter of community outreach and education. He regularly invited students from Tampa Catholic High School to the University to tour his lab and sit in on his lectures.

Phelps also helped teach young artists the intricate details of the human form. He hosted fine arts students from The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art who studied and sketched human anatomy in his labs.

Phelps is survived by his wife Betty; his children, Jessica and Adam; his mother, Alta; and his brothers, Lee and Daniel.

A visitation service will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at Loyless Funeral Home, at 5310 Land O’ Lakes Blvd. in Land O’ Lakes. A memorial service will be held Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Harvester United Methodist Church, located at 2432 Collier Parkway, also in Land O’ Lakes.