Stanford J. Newman, chairman of the J.C. Newman Cigar Co., died yesterday. Newman had been comatose since suffering a heart attack on Tuesday morning. He was 90 years old.

Newman was a cornerstone of the American cigar industry, and spent more than 70 years in the business. He bore witness to revolutionary changes in the way cigars were sold and made, and had to transform his company several times to ensure its survival. He entered the business in the days when cigars sold for a nickel, and a one-cent price increase could destroy a brand; traveled often to Cuba to buy millions of dollars worth of tobacco on nothing more than a handshake, and changed his blends when the Cuban leaf he used became illegal due to the U.S. embargo; and finally lived through the cigar boom of the 1990s, watching his cigar brands reach heights undreamed of in decades past.

Newman's company, the owner of Cuesta-Rey and Diamond Crown cigars, makes cigars by machine on the highest floor of its sprawling headquarters in Tampa, Florida, and it distributes the cigars made by Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., which rolls the company's premium brands in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

An indomitable spirit, Newman remained active in his family business up until his final days, and was at work when he fell ill.

"He was a pioneer," said Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado magazine. "Stanford was a true leader in the cigar industry and a man of great class. We shall all miss him."

Newman took great pride in owning a successful, enduring family business -- J.C. Newman Cigar was founded more than 110 years ago -- and took special pride in working alongside his two sons.

In May, Newman sat down with Cigar Aficionado for what turned out to be his final interview. Joined by his sons, Eric, the president of J.C. Newman, and Bobby, the company's executive vice president, he spoke at length about the family business for the October story "Fathers and Sons." Making cigars and growing tobacco, he said, "goes along with a tradition of family. Aging tobacco has to do with quality -- it isn't something that happened yesterday."

Eric Newman issued a release yesterday about the passing of his father. "Loved by all who knew him, Dad was a leader, a mentor and a visionary who will be truly missed," he wrote. "Starting with the company in 1934 and having just celebrated his 90th birthday in June, not only was Dad the oldest cigar man in the business, but was an industry icon as well. As Chairman of the Board, Dad continued to work everyday and oversaw every aspect of our Tampa-based cigar manufacturing operation."

The Newmans believed in giving to charities, and Eric Newman went on to say that his father's liver was being donated to a person waiting for a transplant. "At a time of deep sadness," he wrote, "this uplifting gift of life brings comfort to our family."

Newman's funeral is scheduled for Sunday in Tampa. The family asked that in lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation, P.O. Box 76246, Tampa, Florida, 33675, or the Elaine Newman Scholarship Fund at Berkeley Preparatory School, 4811 Kelly Rd., Tampa, Florida, 33615.

Newman is survived by his wife of 60 years, Elaine; his sons, Eric and Bobby; and his three grandsons, Drew, Dawson and Paxton.

Click here to read Marvin R. Shanken's August 1997 interview with Stanford J. Newman.

Photo by Gary John Norman