PINELLAS PARK — On an early morning in 1984, a dolphin beached itself near what is now the Bayside Bridge. A marine biologist went out to pick up an animal he was pretty sure would be dead.
Stranded dolphins did not do well, especially when Tampa Bay was more polluted than it is now.
All the same, the biologist called his old friend, veterinarian Bill Goldston. If this dolphin had a chance of surviving, Dr. Goldston was the man he wanted.
The 4-year-old Atlantic bottlenose weighed just 120 pounds, had a virus and was full of worms. But it was alive.
The men took it to Clearwater Marine Science Center (now the Clearwater Marine Aquarium), where Dr. Goldston force-fed it and gave it antibiotics. They also gave it a name: Sunset Sam.
Blind in one eye and — like Winter, the aquarium's most famous current resident, deemed unfit for release — Sam made history. He remained at the aquarium until his death in 2001, making him the first local dolphin to survive being stranded.
Dr. Goldston went on to become an expert on dog and cat gerontology, publishing dozens of papers and winning several of the Florida Veterinary Medical Association's most prestigious awards.
Dr. Goldston, who owned Parkview Animal Hospital in St. Petersburg, died Sunday at Shands Hospital in Gainesville of heart disease. He was 68.
His death has many in the local veterinary community mourning. He was a mentor to countless doctors, technicians and staff — some of whom he worked with for decades.
"He is probably the reason I am a veterinarian today," said Scot Trefz, 52, a Clearwater veterinarian who as a teenager worked in Dr. Goldston's clinic.
Always on call for marine mammals despite operating his own veterinary clinics, Dr. Goldston operated on shark-chomped sea turtles and sped to the beach at all hours. His first whale encounter was also the largest — a 49-foot, 40-ton sperm whale that beached itself in 1974 near Anna Maria Island.
He was always around animals, including at home.
He and the former Sharon Tidwell, his second wife, and their daughter, Lesley, shared a 2.5-acre home in Pinellas Park with a quarter horse, a greyhound, cockatiels, a goat and donkeys. The remains of autopsied whales also found a permanent home in the yard.
"Someday this property will be sold," Sharon Goldston said. "Sixty years from now, somebody is going to be digging my garden and find whale bones and not understand how they got here."
Richard Thomas Goldston was born in 1944 in Alanreed, along the Texas panhandle. Until first-grade he thought his name was William, the name his parents intended. (A clerical error left it at Richard, but he never claimed it.) Dr. Goldston graduated from Texas A&M and its veterinary school. After moving to Pinellas County, he co-owned Skyway Animal Hospital and worked as the veterinarian for the now-defunct Aquatarium in St. Pete Beach.
Mickie Hoelzle, who had worked with Dr. Goldston for the past 39 years, describes her boss as driven and compassionate.
"When it came to animal medicine, everything had to be perfect," said Hoelzle, 56.
Family and staff referred to his moods as "the good, the bad and the ugly."
The gruff side he sometimes displayed fooled no one. Dr. Goldston sang to his animal patients, cried over stray dogs dying and gave his all to impossible dolphin and whale rescue attempts.
"We throw a 100 percent effort into trying to save the animal and get it safely back out to water," he said in 1979. "We know we don't stand a chance, but we can't just stand back and say let him die or shoot him."
A staunch believer in conservative personal responsibility, he made countless "payment arrangements" with clients he never heard from again.
He vacationed vigorously, scuba diving in the Cayman Islands, where he had opened another veterinary clinic, running 10k races and playing Texas hold 'em.
Patients followed him to the Animal Hospital of St. Petersburg, a clinic he owned after Skyway, then to Parkview. He led his field, getting board-certified in internal veterinary medicine in the early 1980s.
In the 1990s he wrote a widely read book, Geriatrics and Gerontology of the Dog and Cat, and was named the Florida Veterinary Medical Association's veterinarian of the year.
None of the accolades impressed Sunset Sam, the one-eyed dolphin. At his every approach at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the dolphin thrashed his tail or tried to nip his ankles.
"I loved him, but he didn't like me," Dr. Goldston said after Sam's death in 2001.
Dennis Kellenberger, the marine biologist who called Dr. Goldston to assist in Sam's rescue in 1984, thinks he knows why.
"He remembers Goldston as the one who gives him the shots and stuffed the tube down his throat initially," said Kellenberger, 62.
Thanks to the life-saving treatments Dr. Goldston was a part of, biologists can now track captured dolphins and whales that have been rescued and released, Kellenberger said. Some have been noticed up and down the Atlantic coast. Others have made it to the Caribbean Sea.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.