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Date of Issue: January 06, 2010

Islanders of the year: Chiles, Chiles

By Bonner Joy

Rhea Chiles works on canvas.

Ed Chiles discusses the future at his restaurants and on Pine Avenue, where his vision is coming to life.

It was an idea of great joy to Rhea Chiles, and as it formed, evolved, mired and progressed, the idea became big.

It meant something big for Anna Maria Island to be host to the first lady of Florida, to have her return here to live after a time in the governor’s mansion, after the death of Lawton Chiles very near the end of his last term.

Of course, AMI embraced Rhea.

But little did we know she had such a big idea for us, one that would bring us culture, education, arts and artists, and a sense of place in tune with nature and the beauty around us.

It came to be the Studio at Gulf and Pine, but it is a mirror of Rhea Chiles, a woman generous of her great intellectual gifts.

The shape of the rooms, the undertone of art on the walls, the milieu of refinement, the boldness of abstracts, sculptures and color, it all gives a sense of refinement that whispers to the soul.

It’s a gift that couldn’t have happened without the vision of Rhea Chiles, the insight that looked beyond sunsets and palm trees, pelicans on posts, grouper sandwiches, souvenir shops and real estate offices.

But take that gift and combine it with the generosity and vision of son Ed Chiles, who has developed his trio of restaurants into landmarks on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, and we have a legacy for the future.

Ed knows the value of investing in the community, of giving back to the organizations that help support youth sports, the elementary school and other worthwhile causes. Few, if any, who ask for help are turned away.

And while he may have competitors in business, none can argue with his generosity.

None should doubt his contribution to the evolving wedding business on AMI, or his ability to help others capitalize on it. Salons, photographers, florists, planners, musicians and, yes, accommodations. Were it not for rentals, many of the real estate businesses on Anna Maria Island would be reeling like the rest of the county economy.

And while some doubt his vision for Pine Avenue, we see a change there for the better and the process is not nearly complete. It’s an undertaking that Anna Maria hasn’t seen since the Fig Newton revolutionized and vitalized the city. The new Pine Avenue vision overflows with a passion for old Florida, but with the wink of an eye, brings us into focus for the future.

He’s embraced partners whose development and design standards have brought greener building methods, preserved worthwhile cottages and promoted the growth of new development fitting the old Florida image on a strip where commerce was on the brink of disappearing.

Rhea and Ed Chiles.

Formidable. Enlightening. Generous. Passionate.

And they’re our Islanders of the year.