Robert James “Bob” Pleus Jr. spent his entire adult life serving others — in the United States Navy; as a commissioner, mayor and attorney for the town of Windermere; as a judge with the Fifth District Court of Appeal; and as a deacon at Holy Family Catholic Church.
Pleus, who was born in Orlando and was a longtime Windermere resident, died Dec. 14, 2021, at the age of 85.
Perhaps his most important role was that of husband and father. Pleus and his wife, Terry, were married for 58 years and raised six children — Larry, Robin, Michael, Maria Harrington, Melissa Torres and Sean — in Windermere after moving to the town in 1967. In his later years, he was surrounded by the love of 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
“He was such a loving father,” son Michael Pleus said. “It was so funny because, for a lot of people, he was this serious lawyer and mayor and judge. … So many people loved him, but in his circles, he was a pretty serious person. But I wanted them to know that as a dad, he was a very gentle, kind and caring person and deeply cared about this family.”
He said his father stressed the importance of doing right by his family.
“None of this other stuff would mean anything to me if I didn’t get that right,” he said his father told him.
Pleus shared a birthday with daughter Melissa Torres and passed on his affinity for law to son Sean Pleus and nephew Jim Lussier.
In Pleus’ eulogy, which he wrote several years ago, he spoke of his legacy and the gifts of faith and love he leaves behind.
“He really taught us to love one another, despite our faults,” Michael Pleus said. “We are a family that loves and cares for one another. We genuinely love spending time together, and that’s because of my dad. As a deacon he wanted to pass that along to us the gift of faith.”
Pleus established his faith and love of family at a young age. He was born in Orlando to the late Judge Robert J. Pleus Sr. and Virginia Sleeper Pleus. They regularly prayed together and attended Mass at St. James Cathedral.
He attended St. James School and Orlando High School and graduated from St. Thomas Military Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota. He obtained a bachelor’s degree cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1957.
Upon graduation, he was commissioned an ensign in the Navy — following in his father’s footsteps — and served on active duty, attaining the rank of first lieutenant, until his entry into the University of Florida College of Law.
Pleus graduated in 1962 and returned to his home in Orlando, where he began the practice of law with his father’s former firm, known then as Rush Reed and Marshall. He later was a partner in Smathers, Tepper and Pleus; Carlton Fields; and Pleus Adams and Spears. He was of counsel to Akerman Senterfitt. For 25 years, he was general counsel to the Diocese of Orlando, serving five bishops.
In 2000, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Pleus to the Fifth District Court of Appeal, where he served as chief judge before his retirement. He then returned as a senior judge.
Pleus practiced law in Central Florida for 35 years. During those years he was a diocesan attorney for four separate bishops in the Diocese of Orlando.
Attending Loyola University’s LYMEX program as a major part of his formation, he received his master’s degree in pastoral ministries. He was ordained as a deacon at St. James Cathedral June 4, 2000, by Bishop Norbert Dorsey. Prior to receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders at St. James Cathedral, he had received the Sacrament of Baptism, First Holy Communion, Confirmation and Holy Matrimony — all at the cathedral.
Pleus served as a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church.
According to Holy Family Catholic Church, the deacon’s favorite Bible verse was John 3:16: “And he is in awe of the love of God, that Jesus would die for his (and our) salvation.”
While serving at Holy Family, he presided at baptisms (including a grandchild) and funerals and gave homilies.
His leadership in civic activities included serving as president in many organizations: Windermere Rotary Club, Tiger Bay Club of Orlando, University Club of Orlando, Committee 101, Orange County Historical Society, Notre Dame Club of Greater Orlando, Sierra Club, Tri-County League of Cities and Orange County Bar. He also was past grand knight of Council 5150 and district deputy, as well as a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus.
In the political arena, Pleus served two years on the Windermere Town Council in the 1970s and for six years as the mayor of Windermere. He also was the town attorney for Windermere.
He served for eight years on the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors as well.
The town of Windermere remembered Pleus on its Facebook page: “The town of Windermere is saddened to hear of the passing of Judge Robert ‘Bob’ Pleus. Judge Pleus led a very accomplished life and spent many years in public service, including serving as a Windermere Town Council member from 1971 – 1974, as well as the mayor of Windermere from 1987 - 1993. Additionally, Judge Pleus served as the town's attorney for many years.”
“His fingerprints are on many of the important document and policies that helped to shape our town and the West Orange community,” Windermere Mayor Jim O’Brien said.
Longtime friend Pat Christiansen said he met Pleus when they were attorneys and discovered they both attended Notre Dame.
“That led to a close relationship with our families and wives,” he said.
He and his wife, O’Ann, took many vacations together with the Pleuses, to the Bahamas and on ski trips, and including flights to Notre Dame games with Pleus in the cockpit.
“Bob came to work for the Akerman firm for a while and then wanted to be a judge. … During that time, he became deacon in the church. He wanted to do that. He was really good at being a deacon; his sermons were quite good.”
Christiansen said Pleus was well regarded in Windermere and in the Catholic Church.
The two had many conversations about life.
“He lived his life fully because his dad died when he was young and he worried about that,” Christiansen said. “He just enjoyed life to the fullest. There’s no question about it.”
Memorial donations can be made to Catholic Charities Donate – Catholic Charities of Central Florida (cflcc.org). Woodlawn Funeral Home & Memorial Park handled the funeral arrangements.