In 1982, just shy of his 62nd birthday and after 27 years as a district court judge, Warren Plunkett stepped down from the bench. But he didn’t retire.
“He said he wanted to practice law again,” said his son, Peter Plunkett.
Warren Plunkett continued to practice law with his son in Austin, Minn., for the next two decades. “I think he tried his last case when he was about 80,” his son said.
It was just one of many surprises in the life of a man who was a star athlete at the University of Minnesota, a World War II Navy veteran and a friend of some of Minnesota’s most prominent leaders. Warren Plunkett died on Dec. 30 in Austin from complications of pneumonia. He was 98.
Plunkett was born in 1920 in St. Paul to Hugh Plunkett and Lillian Klein. In 1927, the family, which included four sons and a daughter, moved to Austin, where his father joined a law practice. Warren Plunkett and his brothers, Hugh Jr., Richard and Roger, all became lawyers.
Warren Plunkett first earned attention for his athletic ability. He played football for Austin St. Augustine High School, helping the Shamrocks win 27 consecutive games. During his junior and senior seasons, the Shamrocks did not allow a point.
“Plunkett was a big fellow in high school and he certainly liked to play football,” Francis Dieg, his high school coach, told the Minneapolis Star in 1940. “Why, I had to take him out of some of the games when the opposition wasn’t very big because he hit so hard. He is smart. That is one of the first things I noticed about him.”
Plunkett enrolled the U, where he joined the Gophers football team. Plunkett, who stood 6 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds, was a regular for the Gophers’ undefeated and national championship teams in 1940 and 1941. While at the U he also won an intermural championship in boxing. In 1942, he played professional football for the Cleveland Rams.
He served in the U.S. Navy from Sept. 1943 to March 1946. After being discharged, he returned to Minneapolis and attended the University of Minnesota Law School. On graduating, he joined the family law firm in Austin.
“I think his father expected him to become a lawyer,” Peter Plunkett said. “[My father] said he always wanted to do what his mom wanted him to — to help the family business.”
In 1955 Orville Freeman, in his first year as Minnesota’s governor, appointed Plunkett a district court judge serving primarily Freeborn and Mower counties. Freeman and Plunkett had been teammates on the 1939 Gophers football team.
In 2016, when the Gophers football program recognized the 75th anniversary of its only Heisman Trophy winner, Bruce Smith, two members of the 1941 team — Plunkett and George Michael Welch — were on hand. “For us to have the opportunity to honor them, as they stand on the field, you cannot find better moments in all of college sports,” George Adzick director of the M Club, told the Star Tribune.
“I was there with him,” said Peter Plunkett, “and he got a kick out of it. He wasn’t in great shape, but he enjoyed being there.”
Warren Plunkett maintained his license to practice law until 2018. According to his son, Plunkett was “very proud of a product-liability case against Nash Motors, one of the first of its kind, that he won a verdict.”
In addition to his son, Plunkett is survived by daughters Dianne, Gail and Lynda and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.