Placido Paul Debesa, veteran activist and iconic figure in the Republican Party in Miami, died Wednesday after a long struggle with lung cancer. He was 91.
“He was one of the most decent people that I have known,” said Nelson Diaz, president of the Republican Party in Miami.
Diaz described him as an honest man committed to leaving “a life lesson” for the new generations in the community.
“He was a very humble person, someone who had met with a number of presidents of the United States but who always took time to share with others,” he said.
Born in Havana, Debesa moved to New York in 1944 and joined the U.S. Army in the middle of World War II. As a second lieutenant, he shipped out aboard a freighter for Europe, where he coordinated assistance to relatives of soldiers and diplomats.
He married his wife, Angela, in 1958 and they moved to Miami. He is survived by a daughter, Yvonne.
“He was a man of great ethical values. He always told me that the best inheritance he could leave me was not something material, but our surname,” his daughter said. “He would tell me that the most valuable thing was to be able to walk with my head held high, because our surname was a synonym for good and honest people.”
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado singled out Debesa as one of the founders of the Republican movement in South Florida’s Cuban community.
“Forty years ago he was one of the people who did a lot of work in favor the Republicans when the party was not well known among the Cubans in Miami,” Regalado said. “He was always a friendly person, very special, who, as far as I know, never had an enemy.”
Doral Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez recalled meeting Debesa about a decade ago in the hallways of the Legislature in Tallahassee. He was a charismatic man whose wisdom enriched the Republican Party, she said.
“He was an educated man who could relate equally to an activist, a council member, a governor or with the president of the country,” Rodriguez said. “He treated everyone with a special touch.”
Debesa will be remembered not only for his human qualities and active participation in politics, but also for his passion for photography, said Miami-Dade Commission Chair Rebeca Sosa.
“I remember that he always turned up for all the political and patriotic activities in Miami with his camera,” said Sosa. “Later, as a courtesy, he would send the photographs to everyone.”
Mass will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the St. Raymond Catholic Church, 3575 SW 17th St. Interment will follow at the Flagler Memorial Park Cemetery. Rivero/Caballero Woodlawn Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.