Jim Dundee looks at his favorite picture in all the memorabilia dedicated to his father. It is a picture of his Dad with Muhammad Ali.
BELLEAIR BLUFFS – People who do business at Belleair Opticians generally come away with the impression that owner Jim Dundee is a great guy, a nice guy, a happy guy. In fact some customers say that is the reason they keep coming back. What they may not know is Dundee’s demeanor comes directly from his father, and he’s the first one to admit it.
His father was the world famous boxing trainer Angelo Dundee, whose students comprise a who’s who in the boxing world, but none more famous than Muhammad Ali.
Son Jim, 58, said growing up in the 1960s, surrounded by famous boxers, was just something he took for granted.
“My Dad owned the Fifth Street Gym in Miami Beach,” he said. “I grew up in South Florida and that gym became iconic. It really is an historical place, which is wonderful. It was kind of funny. We lived in a middle class neighborhood and we knew that Dad did some special stuff, but Dad was Dad; we never knew that he was going to become iconic. We lived in Miami in an unpretentious neighborhood. We had little money growing up, that is until Dad made it big with Muhammad.”
Dundee said, as he got older he realized that growing up with a famous father had its perks, and he has plenty of stories to back that up.
He remembers one of the few times he worked the corner in a heavyweight fight with his father. It was in the early 1980s and George Foreman was taking on Dundee client Addison Rodriguez who at the time was No. 2 in the world and the Brazilian heavyweight champion.
“I got my 15 seconds of fame in that one,” he said. “Foreman knocked him out in the second round and I had to go help the guy up. Here I was on HBO helping a beaten boxer off the canvas. It was intimidating yet Dad did that every day.”
But even that incident paid off.
“Dad and I ran into George Foreman the next day at the airport. They talked and shook hands and Dad represented him after that,” he said.
Then there was the story when he was in the 5th grade. It was show and tell day, a day he’ll never forget.
“I had gone to school ready for show and tell but what I didn’t know was that Dad was coming,” he said. “When it was my turn my Dad came in and he had the gloves that Ali, Cassius Clay at the time, had worn the night before when he beat Sonny Liston. It was quite a history lesson, and for sure those were changing times in our country.”
That incident put the focus on young Dundee. Suddenly, everybody in school knew who he was and for the most part he said it was good.
“Some kids were cool about it,” he said. “However, some kids wanted to test me, but it was all right. You have to remember it was a different time. Many of our neighbors were mad at Dad because Muhammad would come over to our house. They resented that Dad worked with a loud black fighter that a lot of people didn’t like. That wouldn’t be the same today.”
To Dundee there was no secret why Muhammad Ali was as successful as he was. It all had to do with hard work.
“It was his work ethic, he never left the gym,” he said. “He was there from 11 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. He did 3 or 4 miles of road work every day; he did an hour of calisthenics, push-ups and sit-ups, he busted his tail. He taught me that you couldn’t get anywhere without hard work.”
He said Ali also had a soft side that not many knew about.
“I can remember when I was younger and I was in the hospital and he came to visit me,” he said. “When he noticed he was on the children’s floor he went and visited every single room. Nobody knew he did that, there were no cameras, he just did it.”
Dundee said children were special to Ali.
“Whenever he had a big fight coming up he would relax by gathering us kids around doing a magic show for us. That’s how he relaxed, he loved kids,” he said.
So why did Jim Dundee, son of a famous boxing trainer, connected at the highest level to the sport, decide to become an optician and move from Miami to Belleair?
“There was a fight doctor who worked with Dad and he told me that if I got a degree I could move to Miami and open up a business; there was an offer on the table. So I went to the University of Florida, met my wife Cathy. She attended Clearwater High. So we ended up getting married and coming here. We have three children, Ryan, who is 25, Erin who’s 27 and Meghan who is 29. This was a nice change from Miami. When you get here and get used to the pace it is wonderful.”
That was over 30 years ago. His store is located at 100 N. Indian Rocks Road in Belleair Bluffs. He said it is hard to believe that he’s been in business that long. But his customers say that is no mystery.
Carolyn Kistner has been a customer since the beginning and keeps coming back.
“When he first opened I lived in Belleair. Now I live in Palm Harbor and I make the drive. Jim is a nice man and has a wonderful personality. My kids even go to him,” she said.
Virginia Arabia has been coming to Dundee for 13 years and said she likes what he has to offer.
“He has an old-fashioned way of service,” she said. “I’m forever dropping or losing or breaking my glasses and he keeps replacing them. He greets everyone with warmth that is good old-fashioned stuff.”
Angelo Dundee died just over a year ago on February 1, 2012. He was 91 years old; Muhammad Ali was at his funeral. His son is determined that his memory will live on. In the store in Belleair Bluffs there is a small room dedicated to memorabilia from his Dad’s career. There are pictures of all the famous boxers and celebrities that associated with him. There is also the framed certificate of his father’s induction into the Boxing Hall of Fame. Dundee said it is important that his family knows about it all.
“I took my grandson Riley to the Boxing Hall of Fame and that was good,” he said. “I’ve gotten all my kids to the Hall of Fame and I’ve kept them in the loop all these years.”
He is sure his family will remember his Dad for his place in history.
“Down the road I think they will look back on it. The history he wrote was pretty impressive. Besides Ali there was Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Carmen Basilio. He worked with a lot of kids and made them all special,” he said.
There was one phrase that his Dad taught him that he will never forget; a father’s legacy to his son.
“My favorite thing to say is that it costs nothing to be nice," he said. "My Dad would always say that and I bring it with me every day. It has worked for me in the business world.”