Larry Austin, who founded a company that became Long Island’s largest travel agency, has died after an illness. He was 87.
The Melville resident died Monday while in hospice care, said his son Jamie, of Dix Hills.
Larry Austin founded Austin Travel, which was the successor company of Travel Services Mart of Hicksville, a business he started with his City College advertising professor in 1955. The pair originally scouted locations to open an ad agency, but a landlord suggested they open a travel agency because Long Island had so few of them at the time, his family said.
Austin Travel was based in Melville and grew to $125 million in annual sales, Jamie Austin said. It was sold in 2010.
The elder Austin believed that face-to-face meetings with vendors and customers were key to business success. One of his favorite sayings, said his son Jeffrey, also of Dix Hills, was “Nothing ever gets accomplished sitting in the office.”
Larry Austin was active in numerous organizations, including the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group.
“Larry was a terrific board member for decades and chaired both our tourism and transportation committees, and, thus, it was a privilege to present him with the LIA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011,” said Kevin Law, the group’s president and chief executive.
One of Austin’s proudest accomplishments was his work with the Long Island Philharmonic, where he was a longtime board member from the group’s beginning in 1979 and a former chairman. It closed in 2016 because of declines in public support and federal funding.
“If anything was a labor of love for him, that was a labor of love,” said longtime friend Michael DeLuise, a former vice president of Hofstra University and Dowling College who now lives in Oregon. “He never gave up making it as good as it could be.”
Austin was born in Brooklyn, the son of Sol and Ada Ausfresser. The family later changed its name to Austin. He delivered clothes for a local cleaner when he was 9 years old and, later, newspapers for the Brooklyn Eagle. He worked as a soda jerk at Whelan’s Drug Store in Manhattan and served famed TV personality Ed Sullivan his strawberry malt every Sunday.
“He lived a good, long life,” Jamie Austin said. “We couldn’t be more proud to call him our father.”
He is also survived by his wife of 64 years, Eileen; another son, Stewart; his sister Betty, of Florida; and 10 grandchildren.
A service will take place at Gutterman’s Funeral Home at 8000 Jericho Tpke. in Woodbury at 11 a.m. Thursday. The family will sit shiva at 17 Tree Hollow Lane in Dix Hills from Thursday afternoon to Tuesday evening. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to Long Island Community Chest or UJA of Long Island.