Elizabeth Dundee was not related to the Dundees of South Florida boxing fame — Angelo Dundee, the boxing trainer who guided Muhammad Ali, or his older brother, boxing promoter Chris Dundee.
But her world, and that of her late husband Tony Dundee, intersected with the more famous Dundees in South Florida boxing circles. Yes, they were all friendly with one another.
Dundee, who died Feb. 26 at 80, ran, with her husband, the old Miami Health Club on Southwest Eighth Street. In its glory years, the gym became a haven for boxers and wrestlers and other athletes, along with children from nearby schools like Coral Park, Miami High, Southwest, Coral Gables and even University of Miami students. They came to learn self defense and looked to the Dundees as mentors. “They became unofficial adopted parents to many of these boys and girls,” wrote son Charles Dundee in her obituary.
Though not world-renowned like the former 5th Street Gym on Miami Beach where Ali trained in the 1960s and early ’70s, Miami Health Club boasted its share of visiting celebrities and local luminaries, like members of the Miami Dolphins’ undefeated 1972 season, actor Chuck Conners (“The Rifleman”) and Sunglass Hut founder, the late Sanford Ziff.
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Tony (who died in 2010) was an aspiring boxer who trained and helped train some of his fighters at 5th Street Gym in the 1950s before moving from Miami Beach to Westchester to take a job at Miami Health Club when his wife became pregnant.
She had a special way of making people feel good about themselves and encouraged happiness from within.
Niece Toni Sherrell.
Orphaned at 3, Dundee, born Elizabeth Florio in New York, was raised with her sister Phyllis in a traditional Italian home by their grandmother. After high school, Dundee and her best friend Annie moved to Miami Beach where they met Tony, son of a coal miner from a small Pennsylvania town.
Tony was hanging out on the seawall at Seventh and Ocean with his pal Jordy while he tried to make a name for himself at nearby 5th Street Gym. Months later, Tony wed Liz and soon after Annie married Jordy. The couples forged a close relationship that lasted for 62 years.
In 1960, after working a few years for George Fernandez, owner of Miami Health Club, the Dundees, who now had three children, scraped together enough money to buy the gym from him and ran it until 1977.
After a series of “tough breaks” in middle age, Dundee reinvented herself as a real estate agent, took up yoga and joined the Miami Runners Club. She competed in the Boston Marathon at age 60. “Aunt Liz had a zest for life that was contagious,” said niece Toni Sherrell.
Aunt Liz was iconic in my life, teaching me the lifelong importance of health, love and happiness. She taught me to believe in myself. ... She empowered me through her strength and confidence.
Niece Joni Sherrell.
A year later, in 1997, Dundee suffered a near fatal brain aneurysm and heart attack. She shocked her doctors at Baptist Hospital when she recovered.
“All mom really wanted out of life was to to be a wife and mother as was modeled for her by grandmother. However, her life was more diverse, complex and interesting than she could’ve imagined or wanted,” her son said. “Yoga, marathon running, real estate, diverse spiritual explorations were all things that she took up because of circumstances.”
Dundee is survived by her children Patricia Knight, Charles and Mike Dundee, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Services were held.