Dr. Bill DeWeese was standing in line at Tampa International Airport in the 1980s, waiting for a flight to Mexico City, when he started chatting with a fellow traveler.
The stranger, John Puffer III, was something of a renaissance man, recalls DeWesse. Puffer revered Teddy Roosevelt, and tried to model his life after the former U.S. President. Puffer flew planes and traveled to cities worldwide. He spent the first half of his professional life as a lawyer, the second half as a banker. Says DeWeese, a Tampa-based neurosurgeon who became good friends with Puffer: “There was nothing mediocre about John.”
Puffer died Nov. 25. He was 74.
Puffer was born in Miami Beach. He attended Miami Edison High School — where he obtained his pilot's license before his driver's license, according to his official obituary. He attended the University of Michigan, where met Blanche Ehresman, who went on to become his wife of 52 years.
Puffer also went to law school at the University of Michigan. The young couple moved to Tampa in 1970, where Puffer worked for and ran several law firms, culminating with a stint at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick.
Puffer shifted to banking in 1984, and in 1987 he co-founded what was then called The Terrace Bank of Florida. Puffer recruited some business friends and associates, including DeWesse, to serve on the board.
The bank was later renamed Pilot Bank, with a nod toward Puffer's pastime. In addition to growing the bank in branches and assets, Puffer, according to the obituary, “fused his love of flying into his professional career” when Pilot Bancshares acquired the National Aircraft Finance Co., NAFCO. Pilot had $237.7 million in assets through Sept. 30; Puffer was chairman until he died.
Puffer served on numerous banking, legal and civic boards, and was also an active grandfather, taking his two grandsons on flights all over Florida. Puffer is survived by his wife, daughter and grandsons. A memorial service was held Dec. 2. Donations may be made in Puffer's name to St. John's Episcopal Parish Day School.