TAMPA — While still in elementary school in his native Tampa, Joseph Campo dutifully attended piano lessons ordered by his parents.
Soon, his piano teacher sent him home with a note of apology. Young Joseph had no musical ability, she said.
He soldiered on alone, and within a few years was playing everything from classical music to peppy jitterbug tunes. He would go on to teach himself boat building, clock repair and residential construction.
Dr. Campo, a founding faculty member of the University of South Florida College of Medicine, died Dec. 10, at Kindred Hospital Central Tampa, of heart trouble and other illnesses. He was 81.
He was born in Tampa, the grandson of a Sicilian immigrant. Friends recall a droll sense of humor.
"In English class, there was a question about what was inscribed on King Arthur's sword," said Jack Fernandez, an organic chemist who once attended Hillsborough High with Dr. Campo. "He wrote, 'Made in Japan.' "
That was wrong (the correct answer is "Excalibur"), but the teacher praised his creativity.
"He was a good egg," Fernandez said. "Everybody liked Joe."
In the early 1950s, as he worked on a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical chemistry, Dr. Campo built a 30-foot cabin cruiser with his father, who also was a pharmacist. A teaching position came up before he could test drive it, so he sold the boat and headed to Rutgers University.
He would go on to teach at the University of Mississippi and some of USF's first medical students in the early 1970s. In the meantime, he directed the pharmacy at Tampa General Hospital form 1963 to 1980.
He married Carmela Fonte in 1956. She came from a much larger family and was more talkative than he.
At the same time, he answered all questions thoroughly. Carmela Campo recalled a pharmaceutical conference in Miami Beach, where her husband was a featured speaker.
"There were 2,000 people at the Fountainbleau (hotel), and you could hear a pin drop," she said. "They wouldn't let him go."
He seemed happiest, however, when working with his hands. He frequented Stan Good Clocks on S MacDill Avenue, where he sought parts for the anniversary clocks he acquired and repaired.
"I think he liked the cause-and-effect challenge," said his son, chiropractor John Campo, 52. "This causes this and that causes that, and we can tweak this and make it work."
In later years, Dr. Campo worked at another hospital pharmacy and for the Merck Pharmaceuticals. Mounting health problems forced his retirement about 10 years ago.
He handled the infirmities with self-taught patience, more concerned with how others were faring than his own declining health.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.