First lady lauded, inducted into state hall of fame

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Rhea Chiles, center, daughter of the late first lady of Florida Rhea Chiles, accepts the 2018 Florida Tourism Hall of Fame Award posthumously bestowed on her mother. With Chiles are Ken Lawson, left, president and CEO of Visit Florida, and Lino Maldonado, chair of Visit Florida. Islander Photo: Karen Riley-Love
Rhea Chiles poses with one of her paintings in her Holmes Beach home in 2004. Her pet dog “Giddy” photobombed the picture. Islander File Photo: Bonner Joy

In an Orlando ballroom Sept. 12, crowded with the who’s who in the Florida tourism industry, an Anna Maria Islander’s legacy came into focus.

Though she died in 2015, Rhea Chiles’ life’s work continues, both on Anna Maria Island where she lived out her senior years and around the Sunshine State.

Visit Florida named Chiles the 2018 inductee into the Florida Tourism Hall of Fame. She was honored at the Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the Omni Orlando Resort ChampionsGate in Orlando.

Chiles was nominated for the honor by another island influencer, Karen Riley-Love. Riley-Love was named 2018 Manatee County Tourist Development Council Ambassador of the Year.

“She’s affected not only our island, but Florida as a whole,” Riley-Love said of the nomination.

Chiles, wife of Gov. Lawton Chiles, served as first lady of Florida 1991-98 with an emphasis on hospitality. She opened the first state house in Washington, D.C., while accompanying then-U.S. Sen. Chiles. At the Florida House, her artwork is still displayed and guests can enjoy a taste of real Florida orange juice and learn about the Capital.

After Lawton’s death, she concentrated on developing the Anna Maria Island arts and cultural community, founding the Studio at Gulf and Pine, 10101 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria. Today, the studio hosts meetings, art shows and fundraisers.

She also loved to paint, and her works can be found in collections near and far.

One individual or couple is chosen yearly. Rhea Chiles joins the likes of past distinguished Floridians, including Walt Disney, Henry Flagler, John Ringling and others on her induction into the hall of fame.

Chiles is the third woman to win the award singularly.

The Florida Governor’s Conference gathers tourism representatives, state leaders and officials, advertising agencies and travel experts to explore the latest trends in the industry.

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