First thing that Sunday morning, June 3, friends and relatives of Dr. Gilbert Pitisci woke up and read his emails.
"He would wake up around 4 or 5 a.m., because that was his routine, and he would go through the newspapers online," said his brother, Donald. "He would send us emails with the stories he thought were important."
A couple of hours later, the phone calls started coming in. Dr. Pitisci had collapsed while riding his bicycle on Davis Islands and died almost immediately.
"At 7:30 he sent out his emails," his brother said. "At 9:30 he was dead."
From piecing together information from witnesses and medical personnel, the family thinks Dr. Pitisci blacked out for some reason, tumbled over his bike and severed his spinal cord when he hit the pavement. He was 68.
Dr. Pitisci had spent virtually his entire life in Tampa. He grew up in Ybor City and attended Hillsborough High School and the University of South Florida.
He only lived away from his hometown during medical school at Tulane — where he met his wife, Silvia, who was a secretary at the university — and then during a stint as a pediatrician in the Air Force.
He finished his military career at MacDill Air Force Base, then entered private practice, joining his brother at Pediatric Associates, which had offices in South Tampa, Carrollwood and Brandon. The doctors in the practice rotated among the offices, so Dr. Pitisci had patients all over the county.
"He was born to be a pediatrician," said a close friend, Dr. James Christensen. "He loved the kids and the kids loved him."
Dr. Pitisci's parents were working class, neither rich nor poor but they valued education. Both of their children grew up to become successful doctors, and both of Dr. Pitisci's daughters are now doctors as well.
Dr. Pitisci was eight years younger than his brother, so they weren't best friends when they were kids.
"When I was a senior in high school, he was in fourth grade," Donald Pitisci said. "But after the service when he joined our practice, we became very close."
He practiced for so many years in Tampa that it wasn't usual for him to treat generations of the same family.
He got away from practicing medicine for about 10 years and became an administrator, serving as vice president of medical affairs at St. Joseph's Hospital for several years. But then he returned to private practice.
"Thank God he did that so he could take care of my grandchildren," Christensen said.
In recent years he had cut back on his working hours because he wanted to spend time with his children and grandchildren and indulge his passions for gardening, biking and golf. He also devoted time to reading and disseminating political stories from newspaper websites. He never had a chance to retire.
"People would ask me how long I've known him and I'd say, 'all my life,' " Christensen said. "They'd say 'How can you have known him all your life? You're from Indiana.'
"That was just the kind of guy he was. If you were his friend, you couldn't remember a time when he wasn't your friend."
Besides his brother and his wife, Dr. Pitisci is survived by his daughters, Piave Lake and Gia Agresta, and five grandchildren.
Marty Clear writes life stories about local residents who recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]