Newman, cigar industry legend, dies at 90

Published August 19, 2006

TAMPA - Stanford J. Newman, one of Tampa's cigar industry icons, drove to work Tuesday, a beloved cigar in his pocket.

While reviewing marketing figures at J.C. Newman Cigar Co., he went into cardiac arrest. He died shortly after at Tampa General Hospital. He was 90.

"A better script could not have been written," said his son Eric. "He died on the job at the age of 90. All of us should be so fortunate."

Born in Ohio in 1916, the son of an immigrant cigarmaker, Mr. Newman once said, "To be successful in business, you have to have some original ideas. Besides working hard, you have to be innovative."

He stood by that statement.

Mr. Newman worked his way through Case Western Reserve University selling cigars for his father, J.C., in downtown Cleveland, working strictly on commission.

After three years in the Army Air Corps as an airplane engine mechanic, he returned to the family business with his brother, Millard.

The family made cigars for more than five decades before deciding to move south in 1953 to be closer to Cuba, the primary source of the company's tobacco.

Mr. Newman's father sent him to scout a vacant factory: the Ybor City clock tower, where the business still resides today.

Mr. Newman's cigar business was different from those at the turn of the 20th century.

He hired employees who operated machinery rather than rolled cigars.

There were no numbers games, no cafe con leche concessions and no lector reading aloud to the workers.

Buying the Cuesta-Rey brand in 1958 made the family a national competitor. Newman's Cuesta-Rey cigar No. 95 put the company on the map when it became the top selling premium cigar in the United States in the mid 1960s.

In the 1990s, Mr. Newman shifted the focus from machine-made brands to high-end, premium, hand-rolled lines in time for the next cigar boom.

"His life bloomed in the last decade," said Eric Newman, the company's president.

Mr. Newman served as president of the Cigar Manufacturers Association of Tampa for 20 years, frequently reminding legislators that cigars were Florida's home industry and should not be taxed, son Bobby said.

He was most proud to be the only cigar manufacturer since 1895 that was owned by its founding family.

He chronicled his role in weathering the ups and downs in the industry in his 1999 autobiography, Cigar Family - A 100 Year Journey in the Cigar Industry.

He was named Florida Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young in 2001 and was one of only six men named by Cigar Aficionado magazine to the Cigar Hall of Fame in 1997.

In June, the company honored Mr. Newman's 90th birthday by producing 1,000 boxes of Stanford's 90th Cameroon.

He was a 40-plus-year member of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, a member of the Tampa Yacht and Country Club, a former board member of Congregation Schaarai Zedek, and past board member and treasurer of Berkeley Preparatory School.

In addition to his two sons, Newman is survived by his wife of 60 years, Elaine, and three grandsons.

The family will receive friends at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Congregation Schaarai Zedek, 3303 W Swann Ave., Tampa. A memorial service will follow.

Donations are suggested to the Elaine Newman Scholarship Fund at Berkeley Preparatory School or the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation at www.cf-cf.org.

Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.