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Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 9, 201805:00 AM EST

You Should Know: Leigh Elizabeth Israel

President of Avondale Travel, a family-founded business in the heart of the historic Shoppes of Avondale.

I grew up in this industry. My father started Avondale Travel in 1974 with a passion for travel and it exploded into an empire that he never fathomed. With 50 offices, and being one of the largest agencies in the country, he sold it in 1989 to US Travel, which no longer exists. Prior to selling Avondale Travel, he purchased Orange Park Travel in 1980. That agency survived while the majority of agencies did not in the early to mid-‘90s due to the airlines changing their commission structure. In 2013 we rebranded back to Avondale Travel and now have two offices – our original Orange Park Travel location and our headquarters in the original location where Avondale Travel started.

I love the fact that I have had the opportunity to resurrect Avondale Travel, especially now that Dad is no longer with us. It’s his legacy and it’s an empire we want to – and will – rebuild.

I remember coming into the office as a child and attempting to file brochures and do busy work. Most of the time, I am sure that as a young child I was more of a distraction than help. My dad told people I could cruise before I could walk. There are pictures of me when I was a baby on cruises with my family and all of the ladies of Avondale Travel. Travel has always been in my blood and I travel a significant amount.

 We specialize in a lot of unique destinations. Iceland is quite popular and Italy is always a “hot” destination. I love the access we have for clients. For example, we can arrange a private tour of the Vatican prior to its opening or a private dinner in front of Michelangelo’s David.

If I wasn’t in the industry I would probably be riding for the United States Equestrian Team or work in the fashion industry. We’re in the luxury travel industry, so high-end fashion and luxury travel go hand-in-hand.

My mom is a federal judge on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. She is an amazingly strong woman, one of my mentors, and someone I really strive to be like every day, along with my dad. I’m the epitome of both of them, although everyone says I am very much like my father.

I still ride horses and I play a lot of tennis. I am captain of my tennis team at the Florida Yacht Club. My husband is a very good tennis player — much better than I am — and we play mixed doubles together, so that is fun.

We’re very passionate about this city. Jacksonville has the best of both worlds — the ocean and the river. There are so many people that have realized it is an incredible city. Jacksonville is ever growing and changing. To see the changes and reflect on how far we have come is amazing. There is no place else I would ever want to live.

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