TAMPA — Rea Philip Thrash was a heavy man who had sinus problems and allergies.
But neither his weight nor his breathing trouble could stop him from carving out an active life.
The 24-year-old scaled trees at his landscaping business, worked another part-time job, attended trade school and socked away money for a house.
But last week, Mr. Thrash died in his sleep. His family suspects he died of sleep apnea, though autopsy results are incomplete.
It was a repeat in tragedy for Mr. Thrash's family. Just three years ago, his father died at 53 of a heart attack.
Though he was on a successful path, nothing had come easily for Mr. Thrash.
He was born with micro-opthalmia, a rare birth defect that left his right eye sightless and smaller than the left.
He was close to his father, but his parents divorced when he was a teenager. He moved in with an uncle.
Mr. Thrash worked hard from a young age. At age 16, he was manning the 1 Stepp Food Store on S MacDill Avenue.
When a couple of preppie kids filled the tank of their car and drove off without paying, Mr. Thrash hopped in his pickup and chased them down. They forked over the $30.
Everyone called Mr. Thrash Phil — his middle name.
At the store, the foreign-born owners couldn't pronounce the name and gave him a name tag: "Flip."
Always the good sport, Mr. Thrash wore the tag with no complaint. He worked there for about five years.
After that, Mr. Thrash bagged groceries 30 hours a week at Publix and ran his business, Dr. Phil's Tree and Lawn Care.
Regulars at Publix looked for him. He knew them all by name.
"You never had to ask Phil twice," said Joseph Lorello, his manager.
While working, he also was putting himself through school at DeVry University. He wanted to be an electrical engineer.
He was two-thirds of the way to an associate's degree in electronics and computer technology.
"He may not have been a natural, but he worked real hard," said Cyrus Shahibi, one of his teachers. "Few of my students go to school full time and work full time, but he was one of the few."
Once, when the class was building computer circuits, Mr. Thrash fell behind other students. He took extra time, but finally got it to work. In four classes with Shahibi, he made four A's.
The school had asked him to write a mission statement.
"Once my associate degree is completed, I plan to start a career with General Electric in their Biomedical Engineering maintenance department," he wrote in June. "The average starting salary for this position is $45,000 a year."
He was heavy, but had no problem climbing trees or running the obstacle course at the NFL Experience, where he had served as an intern setting up computers for Super Bowl XLIII.
Sinus problems and allergies influenced his choked-off laugh — kk-khhh-khhh-khhhh.
But he often provoked laughter in others, either by quoting funny lines from South Park or mimicking movie character Forrest Gump.
Despite his soft and humorous side, he acted as a kind of bodyguard for his mother and sisters. If someone was bothering them in a club, all they had to do was call Philip.
On March 29, Mr. Thrash stayed up most of the night at his mother's house, doing homework for a Tuesday class.
The next day he hung out with friends, drank a few beers and ate pizza, his family said. He went to bed early, around 8 p.m., saying he needed to catch up on sleep. His family had noticed that Mr. Thrash seemed tired lately.
At 11 a.m. on March 31, Mr. Thrash's uncle unlocked the bedroom door and found him.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.