Gene Tipton, who spent more than 50 years selling cigars for such big names as Altadis and Hav-A-Tampa, died this weekend. He was 74 years old.
Tipton’s first job in the cigar business was working for Eli Witt Distributing. The company owned, among other brands, Hav-A-Tampa, a popular machine-made cigar brand that would be a major part of Tipton’s life for decades. Tipton worked with that brand through several ownership changes; Havatampa Inc. was acquired by Spain’s Tabacalera S.A. in 1997 and it later became a segment of Altadis U.S.A. Inc., one of the world’s largest cigar companies. (Altadis was later owned by Imperial Brands PLC, and that company is in the midst of selling its premium cigar division.)
Tipton became VP of sales for the premium cigar division of Altadis USA, a job he held until his retirement in 2014. A year later he joined the much smaller Sindicato Cigar Co. as VP of sales, and he retired again in September 2019.
Tipton was a popular fixture in the cigar business, and his passing sparked a series of condolences on Facebook.
“Gene's genuine kindness to all whose paths he crossed made him one of the true gifts of the cigar industry. He will not be forgotten,” said Craig Cass, owner of the Tinder Box chain of cigar stores in the Carolinas.
“I loved and respected that man,” said Rick Rodriguez from General Cigar, one of Tipton’s competitors.
“Gene was a main contributor of building our business to where we are now,” Javier Estades, president and CEO of Tabacalera USA, told Cigar Aficionado. “Over many years he showed tremendous leadership over the sales operations due to his deep knowledge and caring for the industry and the people in it.”
Tipton is survived by his wife, Shirley, four children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.