Robert Ward Phelps, loving husband, father and grandfather, passed away peacefully at his mountain home on October 30, 2021 at the age of 77 with his wife, Carol, and daughter, Juliana, by his side.

Bob was born on April 19, 1944, to Eloise Ward and Orva Lewis Phelps. During his childhood in Pueblo, Colorado, he played both marimba and piano, he was a ham radio operator, became an Eagle Scout, and often visited family in the foothills outside of Denver. It was through these visits that Bob acquired a love of the mountains, which he maintained throughout his life.

After graduating from Pueblo South High school, he attended Colorado College where he met Carol Erbisch of Denver, who also had a great love of the Colorado mountains. They were married on December 28, 1968 outdoors in Genesee Park amid the snow-covered pines. Bob received his PhD from Stanford University in Biophysics and then an MD from the University of Rochester in New York.  Soon after the birth of their first daughter, Bob and Carol moved to Denver, where Bob completed his anesthesiology residency at the University of Colorado. He became an associate professor at UC Health and School of Medicine, with a special interest in technology and an advocate for patient safety.

From an early age, Bob had a great interest in computers and technology and took on much of the IT responsibilities for the anesthesia department. He was even asked to be on call for New Years 2000 in case of a hospital-wide computer crash due to Y2K. After his retirement from clinical practice, he continued to work as an IT administrator for the hospital and was involved in setting up the new computerized anesthesia record for the entire UCH system.

Bob was also a man of many talents. In addition to his passion for learning and using new computer languages, databases and operating systems, he could fix anything. He could do plumbing, carpentry, tile and electrical work, and even put in the entire electrical service for a second story addition on their Denver home in 1984.  His family got used to never having to call a repairman for anything, and both daughters are perfectly capable of doing small home repairs thanks to his teaching.

In his free time, Bob was an avid hiker, skier, and outdoorsman. He spent most weekends with his family in the mountains at their second home in Elk Falls Ranch.  His daughters hold fond memories of family hikes through the wilderness to the magnificent waterfall, Elk Falls, which is now a highlight of the adjacent Staunton State Park. On one of his childhood visits to his beloved aunt’s house at Elk Falls Ranch at age 12, Bob fell off the top of the waterfall while attempting to take a picture of the bottom. He survived with a broken femur, but recovered well and continued to enjoy hiking for most of the rest of his life.   Elk Falls continues to be a very important place for Bob’s family.

In his retirement, Bob was an active volunteer at Staunton State Park. He most enjoyed assisting in trail building and small construction in the early development of the park. The track chair program allowed Bob to enjoy the park with his family when he became too weak to hike on his own.

Bob and Carol also loved traveling together and with their daughters. They traveled all over Europe, especially enjoying Rick Steves tours, as well as to Russia, Turkey, Israel, India and Peru. They even biked Crete one year, with Bob managing to keep up with the hard-core cyclists.  They spent much of the last few years traveling to Germany to visit their daughter and family, until the Covid pandemic made that no longer possible. His dream of seeing his daughter and grandchildren again was finally realized this past August, when they were able to fly over to the U.S. to visit while he was still relatively healthy.

Bob will be deeply missed by his wife, Carol Phelps; daughters, Juliana Phelps, and Sarah Thimm (Matthias), of Minden, Germany; and grandchildren, Eloise and Logan Thimm. He is further survived by his sister, brother-in-law and niece, Kathy, Robert and Jennifer Lovell, of East Lansing, MI, as well as many other friends and family members.

The family would like to thank the doctors and nurses of the Cancer Center at UC Health as well as the staff at Mount Evans Home Health Care and Hospice for their support and care throughout Bob’s illness.

If you would like to make a gift in Bob’s name, please consider one of the following:

Mount Evans Home Health Care and Hospice, 3081 Bergen Peak Drive, Evergreen, CO 80439, www.MountEvans.org.

The Cancer Center General Research Fund at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Please send your gift in memory of Robert Phelps, MD to: University of Colorado Foundation, PO Box 17126, Denver CO 80217. On the memo line of the check, please note Robert’s name and make it payable to the CU Foundation. Gifts may also be made online at https://giving.cu.edu/RobertPhelps or   https://giving.cu.edu/fund/cancer-center-general-research-fund.

If you cannot make a gift, please give someone you love a back rub in Bob’s memory (one of his favorite things!)

The family would also very much welcome adding your stories and memories of Bob in the comments below. 

18 thoughts on “Robert Ward Phelps”

  1. Of course I have to tell the story of when I visited some time ago in Denver. Bob and family took me out to the Buckhorn restaurant. “You have got to try the Rocky Mountain Oysters” he said. “So what are these? Some kind of dry land oyster?” I thought. Being young and naïve, I did. I didn’t care a lot for the texture, but it was okay. Then he let me know what they are. I was mildly shocked, but I felt like I had one more experience under my belt and that I grew a little that day. This was just one part of otherwise a wonderful visit.

    1. Jim, thanks for sharing this! That definitely sounds like my dad. He certainly loved recommending the Rocky Mountain Oysters to anyone who would try them. Of course, he never ate them himself.

  2. Bob was on my trail building crew a couple of years ago. I don’t think it was his favorite volunteer job, but he was joyful to have on the crew, even though he made trails in his own direction. One day, looking rather fed up, he said he always thought trails just were natural and came from deer – not hardworking humans.

  3. Juliana- I am so sorry for your loss. What a remarkable man with such a sense of adventure. It totally explains your great love of life !!! My thoughts and prayers to your family!

  4. I have fond memories of Bob defending his 25 year old, broken-down Izuzu Trooper to the teeth, all while secretlly wanting to drive the family Prius.

    1. Hahahahahaha! Actually in honor of him Juliana and I are keeping the Trooper — duct tape and all — and getting rid of the Prius.

  5. Mr. Phelps was a very kind and loving man. And although he is not drawing breath, he will live on in the hearts of those that knew him.

  6. Bob was my friend and anesthesiology mentor. He helped me grow my longstanding love of technology to a career of technology in anesthesia. During my medical device informatics fellowship, Bob lent me research funds so I could purchase a specialized computer neural-network training accelerator for my research on clinical waveform analysis. When I questioned the operation of an anesthesia machine ventilator, he spent a weekend tearing the machine apart to teach me its operation. He supported my Univ of Colorado Chancellor’s award and many other career-influencing initiatives. I remember his foundational approach to problem solving: always return to first principles to untangle a thorny problem.

    And our families had many wonderful times together before we moved away from Denver.

    As wonderful as Bob was, he was unable to persuade me to start wearing Western shirts with pearl-covered snaps! (though he tried!)

  7. The four of us go back a long time… Tom and I met Carol and Bob when our daughters, Juliana and Terri, attended grade-school. Eventually Carol and I joined a madrigal group. Then Carol invited Tom and me to join her and Bob as members of a square dance club! After we two couples had square danced with the club for many years, Bob and I became interested in learning another aspect of square dancing: “Dancing by Definition” {DBD). Because Tom and Carol didn’t share our enthusiasm for that, with their encouragement (and possibly relief?), Bob and I took the class, usually Monday evenings. It was precious time. Carpooling there and back we had delightful conversations and I was able to get to know Bob better. Bob was facing very serious health issues by that time but DBD seemed to give him a lift. It certainly was a pleasure for me, and the members of the club supported Bob with understanding, compassion and encouragement, appreciating how well he learned and danced DBD. What a kind, perceptive, intelligent and loving man! Totally devoted to his family; wise and fun. Bob had a strong, bright spirit. I have to believe that anyone who was privileged to know Bob would cherish that friendship. He is profoundly missed. Ginger Waymire … perhaps he is now, literally, dancing with the stars …

  8. Carol recently got me thinking about memories from childhood. For us North Carolina cousins, it was of course a big deal when Aunt Eloise’s family would come to visit from Colorado—everyone gathering for supper at Aunt Belle’s house, with the children playing in the yard while the adults talked. As one of the younger kids, I looked up to Bob and Kathy as sophisticated teenagers with celebrity status! Later on, when I was a teenager myself, I remember listening to the aunts talking admiringly about one of Bob’s latest academic achievements—and thinking, “OK, that’s one of our family values. We care about learning and figuring things out! That’s an important part of who we are!” But what I especially appreciate is that he provided a model of academic achievement that came with an adventurous outdoor life and a happy family. I thank him for being the cousin who added that whole beautiful picture to our extended family album!

  9. No one knew Elk Falls Ranch better than Bob. He loved it like so many of us who live here do. So many memories of his kind and gentle spirit. We took our first hike in Staunton with Bob and Carol; he willingly participated as the only guy in our rowdy neighborhood Bunco games when a sub was needed; and he worked tirelessly with the homeowners during the POA lawsuit. His spirit will remain in Elk Falls and we will continue to cherish his memory.

  10. Bob was a great mentor to me when starting my career. From my first day with the Department of Anesthesiology he was always there willing to help answer any question I had about technology and anesthesiology and how they played together. Together we spent countless hours working to figure out how to make EMR’s do what we wanted, we used to joke that the best way to make them work was to break them. Then we’d spend hours building reports out of the data. As much fun as Bob always seemed to have working on difficult technology problems, he was always more excited to spend some time at Elk Falls or take a trip to Europe to see his daughter or spend time with his family in general. To love the outdoors and prioritize time with family were some of the great lessons he taught me that were far more valuable than anything work related.

  11. Where to begin, Bob, a true renaissance man, with deep integrity, humor and much wisdom. My late husband, Bruce, and I were fortunate to have spent a few wonderful years in Palo Alto together with Carol and Bob. Bruce and Bob were fast friends, shared a love of technology and nature. I recall Bob’s gentleness, and kindness without conceit for his enormous talent.
    They were our only wedding attendants at our very modest marriage on the Stanford campus and we remained special friends, I only wish we had more time together although we had remained in contact.
    Bob had a special twinkle in his eye that seemed to represent the depth of his moral compass and his love for Carol, his children and nature. We are all better for having known Bob, and his special spirit will continue on with Carol, his children, and grandchildren and all who knew him. His modestly, talents, support of the environment, and remarkable courage during his later years show enormous strength and resilience and serve as true examples for all. My heart felt condolences to Carol, his children and grandchildren as they embody his many blessings and we all share much gratitude for having known him and for carrying on his values as part of our lives in his memory.

  12. I met Bob when we were both working on our PhD’s at Stanford University in the mid-1970’s.
    And I remember him as a very kind, modest and a caring soul, and was later surprised and
    impressed with all he had had accomplished in his lifetime! I feel very fortunate to have
    been able to know him and to keep in touch with him and Carol over the years, usually at
    Holiday time. My heart-felt condolences to Carol and the rest of his family. He will always
    have a special place in my heart.

  13. Not only a physician, but also a DIY’r. I knew who I could go to when I wanted to borrow a tile cutter. Even just a month before his passing our families enjoyed a fun visit with much laughter. We have enjoyed the Phelps’ friendship for over 40 years.

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