As an attorney, Gloria W. Fletcher was the staunchest advocate for her clients. As a champion for the children, she was one of Florida’s great child advocates. Though a formidable, tenacious criminal defense attorney for her clients, including many law enforcement personnel, Gloria arguably had her greatest impact on the lives of children. From the streets of Gainesville, to the federal and state courts of Florida, to the halls of the Florida Legislature and even the governor’s office, she was a force to be reckoned with when arguing on behalf of the state’s neediest children. That was where many knew her best. With her passing this week, that’s where many will miss Gloria most.
Gloria for years served as Vice President and an active board member of Florida’s Children First, a statewide child advocacy organization, where she pressed for foster children to have attorneys. With her relationships in the capital and her unwillingness to take “No” for an answer, she pursued key legislation from sponsors through committees straight to the governor’s desk.
Last year, in what was one of the most successful legislative sessions for Florida’s most vulnerable children, Gloria helped persuade leadership to pass House Bill 561. The law requires the appointment of an attorney to represent dependent children who have special needs. She didn’t just make phone calls. Gloria, wrote about it, spoke about, advocated for it and even persuaded Governor Scott to sign the bill into law.
“Gloria Fletcher was a critical part of the team that has now given disabled children and victims of human trafficking a voice in Florida,” said Howard Talenfeld, President of Florida’s Children First.
Early in her career, Gloria was a social worker, a mental health counselor, and a program coordinator for the former state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. She was asked to serve on the board of Citizens Insurance, Florida “insurer of last resort” when other providers left the state following Hurricane Andrew.
She later became an attorney and soon was a formidable prosecutor. With her trial experience and commitment to children, she entered private practice began representing children in the most horrific child abuse cases.
She was ferocious on their behalf. Among countless successes, she co-counseled and settled a negligence claim for $14.265 million against a foster mother who relentlessly and physically abused 16 children in Alachua County – one of the largest such awards in Florida history. Yet, Gloria was the first to acknowledge that no amount of money would ever replace the childhood each child had lost. She has remained a part of the lives of these children.
To this day, Gloria still had several significant claims on behalf of foster and disabled children pending.
She not only fought for the kids. She cared for them. In one instance, she befriended a young, homeless boy in Gainesville, and found him housing to get him off the street.
Those who knew Gloria remember her as a remarkable, passionate and tenacious fighter on behalf of her clients. Even State Attorney Bill Cervone, who worked with and against Gloria, was stunned by the loss, but moved by her legacy.
Gloria was always the model advocate, even in editorial columns. Earlier in February, in the wake of the deaths of several at-risk kids, Gloria wrote in the Gainesville Sun that “the death of even one more child known to be at risk…is one child too many.”
Those who knew Gloria are stunned by her sudden passing. We’re left with the irony of a woman whose heart was so immense ultimately failed by her own heart.
Our hearts go out to her husband, George “Cotton” Fletcher and their two children. We now will carry on her mission for the children. We must. Besides, we know Gloria wouldn’t take No for an answer.