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Devoted Local Cigar Industry Icon Dies On The Job At 90

TAMPA - Like clockwork, Stanford Newman drove his Cadillac to work each morning, dressed in a suit and tie, a pocket square tucked neatly in the breast pocket.

The 90-year-old felt invigorated by Ybor City's J.C. Newman Cigar Co., the family company he spent seven decades building and growing into a name known by aficionados around the world.

It was at work on Tuesday where Newman suffered a cardiac arrest. He died Thursday at Tampa General Hospital.

"His hobby, his life was the cigar business," said Eric Newman, one of his two sons.

Friends and family on Friday recalled the cigar industry icon who helped shape Tampa's economy, culture and history in the second half of the 20th century.

"He liked the people, the personality, the pace," his son said.

Initially, Eric Newman said his father cringed at the thought of moving to Tampa, where his father moved the company's operations in 1953. When the family arrived a year later, Eric Newman said his father was ready to return to Cleveland.

"He wanted to get back on the plane, it was so hot," Eric Newman said.

At the time, however, Ybor City was the center of the cigar-making industry, and Stanford Newman knew he needed to stay.

Newman was born into the cigar industry. His Hungarian immigrant father, J.C. Newman, had started his Cleveland business by the time Stanford Newman was born in June 1916.

He officially started working for the family business in 1934, when he persuaded his father to let him handle sales in downtown Cleveland, according to Newman's 1999 autobiography, "Cigar Family: a 100 Year Journey in the Cigar Industry."

Newman managed to keep the company successful, despite enormous changes and struggles - including the Cuban embargo that devastated Tampa's thriving cigar industry. During another low point, Newman mortgaged his home at the age of 70 to solidify the company's future, his son said.

Friends said Newman had a significant effect on the city he and his wife of 60 years, Elaine, called home.

"He was a great part in growing Tampa, in building the city of Tampa," said friend Dick Clarke, president of the Peninsula Paper Co. "He not only contributed to it in money, but also in service."

Clarke, who quit smoking years ago, admits one of his favorite times with Newman was the annual Gasparilla parade, when the friends would light up a special stogie.

His effect on the community and cigar making has been recognized by numerous awards, including a 2003 honor from the Florida Holocaust Museum, the 2001 Ernst & Young Florida Entrepreneur of the Year title and his 2000 induction into the Cigar Aficionado's Hall of Fame. He also served as one of the founders of the Ybor City State Museum.

Although he had handed over day-to-day control of the J.C. Newman Co. to his sons, he continued to serve as chairman and showed up at work five days a week. It remains a major maker and distributor of cigars, including those made by business partner Carlos Fuente.

Just last week, Eric Newman said, the father called his sons together to strategize the future of the cigar industry should Cuban dictator Fidel Castro die and the United States lift the embargo on prized Cuban cigars.

Eric Newman said the past 10 years likely were his father's happiest. He survived triple bypass surgery a decade ago and considered every breath after that a gift.

They celebrated his birthday in May, and this fall the J. C. Newman Co. is making available 1,000 boxes of a handmade cigar called Stanford's 90th Diamond Crown Maximus.

"We could not have had a better script," Eric Newman said. "Except maybe if he had made it to 100."

Source: Tampa Tribune