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A Cigar Priest

Terrence Fagan
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96

If there is such a person as a "typical cigar smoker," it isn't Rev. H Setter. His 1,500-cigar J.C. Pendergast humidor and a photo-filled wall of him with the biggest names in the cigar industry reveal that he's more than a casual smoker. But what truly sets him apart is that he has probably been to more Cigar Aficionado Big Smokes than anyone else whose paycheck doesn't have the words "tobacco" or "cigar" on it.

If you've been to a Big Smoke, chances are good that you've seen him. A stocky 6-foot-5, dressed in black with a white priest's collar, Rev. H Jay Setter ("H" is his entire name) stands out in a crowd.

And there is no doubt that cigar aficionados are his kind of crowd. Watching him with the manufacturers and smokers at the May 23 Big Smoke at Manhattan's Marriot Marquis hotel, it was difficult to tell who was happier to see whom. Fellow devotees greeted him with, "Hey, Father! How've you been?" Cigar makers came out from their booths to shake his hand or give him a hug or a slap on the back.

"He's a very congenial guy, let me tell you," says Benjamin Menendez, General Cigar Co. vice president in the Dominican Republic. "It's very, very nice being with him. He's a great cigar smoker, and he enjoys the Big Smokes."

"Enjoy" is an understatement. "You go to a Big Smoke and you run into Carlos [Fuente] and Carlos Jr. [of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia.] or Benny Menendez and Manuel [Quesada of MATASA], the list goes on and on--these people are like Lee Iacocca was to Chrysler. And for them to take the time to visit, to shake hands and take pictures," says Setter, "that's a very rare opportunity for people. To be there with them, it's a privilege, a real, honest privilege."

Setter, 37, has attended every Big Smoke since the first Chicago event in May 1994, for a total of 17 of the 20 held around the United States since they began the year before. He has become such a fixture at these events that the women who plan the Big Smokes at M. Shanken Communications (Cigar Aficionado's parent company) regularly print a special badge for him with the title of "Big Smoke Ambassador." "The [events] girls," says Setter, "have been some of the best friends I will ever have."

The feeling is mutual. "He's like our coach," says Paulette Williams, the events marketing director. "He's always there behind us, always thinking of us."

Events marketing administrator Lisa-Marie Drummond, who has been to every Big Smoke Setter has attended, agrees. "He's like a father," she says. Any time of year, "he'll call and make sure we're OK."

As a Big Smoke regular, Setter has created his own techniques for approaching these events. He scouts out the site beforehand, reviewing the space before the crowds arrive. ("Dallas was a complete joy," he says. "Tall ceilings, lots of room, just a wonderful space.") He then studies the floor map for bottlenecks. "Because there are going to be bottlenecks," he says. "It's where the spirits are--Cognacs, wines, import beers, the Ports--people stop there. If [the spirits booths] are placed in a location that's going to be tight, I will go there first, get my cigars and move on."

So when the doors open, "I have an order of business. I always get my cigars first. Always. I can always go to a restaurant and eat, but if I go home without a cigar that I haven't tried before.... It's not like I'm a fanatic about it, but there's always plenty of food. And it doesn't take that long to get the cigars." Using his mapping and ticket techniques (he removes the staple from the booklet to facilitate easy removal), Setter regularly picks up his 30 or so cigars at each Big Smoke in under 30 minutes, leaving the remainder of the event for socializing. His record is 17 minutes at the 1995 Washington, D.C., Big Smoke.

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