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Dr. Davis Boling: Orthopedic surgeon excelled at medicine and half-dozen serious hobbies

TAMPA — Dr. Davis Boling could win a 5K road race or a tarpon tournament. He could build a model plane with a 10-foot wingspan and make it fly.

He flew real planes, too.

The orthopedic surgeon liked to study hands and was good with his own. In retirement he took up woodworking and made each family member a personalized jewelry box.

At age 70 he took up tae kwon do, eventually earning a black belt.

Those diverse pursuits ranked behind the one Dr. Boling liked best: his job.

Dr. Boling, a 40-year surgeon in Tampa who had led the orthopedics sections of two area hospitals, died Sunday of spinal cancer. He was 85.

While he never stopped absorbing new information, Dr. Boling also held fast to the ways of an earlier era. He kept his number listed in the phone book. In a more innocent time, neighborhood kids who got hurt while playing didn't go to the hospital; their parents took them to Dr. Boling's house.

"It seems like at some time or another, half of Tampa either ate, had a broken bone set or was stitched up on our kitchen table," Stephen Boling wrote in a eulogy for his father. "Of course, that was before HIPAA laws and malpractice suits became the law of the land."

Longtime friend and pathologist Dr. George Colbert said he also considered Dr. Boling a throwback.

"He would tell you straight up what the problem is," Colbert said, "and if you shook hands with him, that was all you needed to do. He was an upright, honest individual, which is a rare commodity today."

Alan Boling, another son, remembers his father's stamina, his "unbelievable zest for life" and unshakable belief in treating everyone with respect.

A physician's son, Dr. Boling was born in Bradenton and grew up in Tampa. After serving in the Navy, he graduated from Emory University and its medical school. His easy humor and restless mind charmed Marjorie Wylie, the medical dean's secretary.

"He was a curious person about life, not necessarily medical but anything he found interesting," said Marjorie Boling, who had been married to her husband 57 years when he died. "He always went from point A to point C."

After completing his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Dr. Boling entered private practice in Tampa.

He served as chief of orthopedics at Tampa General Hospital from 1964 to 1972, and at St. Joseph's Hospital from 1971 to 1988.

He believed in the family dinner and interrupted marathon work days to assume his place at the table.

Family members expected a humorous twist on even the most serious subjects, in remarks as unpredictable as no-look spitballs he flicked from under the table.

After dinner, Dr. Boling quietly returned to work. Besides seeing patients, he published papers in medical journals and traveled to conferences to study the hand, which has since become an orthopedic subspecialty.

"He was extremely interested in hands before anybody else in Tampa Bay was," Colbert said.

In his free time, tarpon fishing superseded all other passions. He was addicted to the glint of sunlight off their silver scales, the singing of the line when they run out to sea, and the long war back to the boat.

He was an early advocate for catch-and-release tournaments, now an accepted norm.

Dr. Boling caught at least one tarpon a year for 65 straight years.

He continued to do so even while fighting a painful cancer, diagnosed 10 years ago. He made his last attempt in May.

"To the end, Dad's quest for a tarpon was symbolic of his life," said Stephen Boling. "You might not always catch what you are trying for, but if you persevere you will be successful."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (727) 892-2248.


Dr. Davis Spratlin Boling

Born: Sept. 16, 1926

Died: Aug. 5, 2012

Survivors: wife, Marjorie; daughters Ansley Ford, Kaleigh Grover and Lauren Meisinger; sons Stephen and Alan Boling; 12 grandchildren.

Funeral Mass: 10 a.m. today; Christ the King Catholic Church, 821 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa.

Dr. Davis Boling: Orthopedic surgeon excelled at medicine and half-dozen serious hobbies 08/07/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 11:16pm]
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