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Airlie to pay tribute to Tony Laurent

By Mark Beale

TRIBUTES are continuing to flow for Airlie Beach businessman Tony Laurent who died suddenly last week.

Tony Laurent was known to many people for many things.

Some knew him as the owner of Airlie, the booking and travel agency on the Airlie Beach main street that punched way above its weight by pioneering the first website in Airlie Beach and winning a Telstra small business award in 2012.

Others knew him as the president of the Airlie Beach Chamber of Commerce and a proud advocate for the town, the region and its people.

To some, Tony was the president of the Whitsunday branch of the Chinese Australia Entrepreneurs Association Inc (CAEAI) – a role in which he played a fundamental part in encouraging Chinese interest in the area, culminating in bids for a casino, Buddhist temple and Chinatown.

Some people will remember him because of his passion for horses and achievements at endurance riding, while others will think of him for his prowess on the water, as a Hobie cat world record-holder and more.

When asked what the main principles were that guided him through such a diverse life, Tony would often cite consistency, decency, respect and good sportsmanship.

He said it was important to “hold your head high” and “go to bed with a clear conscience”.

In a prepared statement, the Airlie Beach Chamber of Commerce expressed great sadness: “to have lost a friend, a leader and an inspiration to us all”.

“Tony worked tirelessly to improve and perfect his business every day and was always on the forefront of new markets and new innovative methods to improve customer experiences and business standards,” the statement said.

“Tony and his business was the epitome of the Chamber of Commerce’s aim for all businesses in the Whitsundays, and was something that others aspired to.

“Tony was very passionate about the Whitsundays, his actions were always in the interest of promoting the region for the good of all. He will be sorely missed.”

The CAEAI has also spoken out saying: “Tony has been an integral part in forming the China-Australian relations in the Whitsundays and we would like to acknowledge his dedication, his care and his passion”.

President of the Australian Branch of the CAEAI, Mr Raymond Wang, said Tony was respected for his honesty, and his ability to warmly welcome Chinese delegations to the Whitsundays “in a way that only Tony could”.

Tony Laurent was born in Victoria on March 31, 1953.

He was the youngest of three brothers, all of whom moved to Redcliffe, Queensland, in 1960.

After finishing school Tony went to ‘Wool College’ becoming a wool classer then a wool buyer.

It was the latter role that took him to Sydney, where he also launched himself into sailing Hobie Cats.

Eventually, Tony headed overseas where he pursued a career in sailing with vigour.

He met his New Caledonian wife-to-be, Lolita, in Singapore at a Hobie Cat Championship.

Together the couple went on to compete in many European championships, winning a major race in Holland.

Tony and Lolita’s daughter Jess was born in May 1991 in France. Three years later, Tony had sailed in the Jules Verne challenge and decided he wanted to see green mountains with horses instead of dark, stormy seas.

The family moved to Australia and fell in love with Airlie Beach where Tony and Lolita ran ‘HB Cruise and Travel’ in Don Algie’s Hog’s Breath building. When technology exploded in the form of the worldwide web, they were the first to recognise the importance of registering the business name Airlie and so their travel and booking agency was born. Meanwhile, Tony began riding horses, becoming a ‘heavyweight rider’ determined to complete a 160 kilometre ‘Quilty’ ride.

“He always said he wanted a Quilty belt buckle,” Jess said.

A service to celebrate Tony’s life is being held at the Whitsunday Sailing Club, this Saturday, February 14, at 3pm.

Helpline numbers relevant to this story can be found at: Lifeline 13 11 14, and Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

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