This will be the start of what is going to be a weekend full of statements celebrating the life of the iconic Bert Gottfried of Oliva Family Cigars who passed away early Friday morning. While I only met Bert a few times, he was a member of a select group of those in this industry: everyone liked and respected Bert. There are few people you never hear anyone say a negative thing about, particularly in tobacco, and Bert was one of those select few.
Bert Gottfried was born in 1938 and would become Oliva’s first salesman when the company was just beginning its venture into the premium cigar industry. He is largely credited with being a key architect behind the brand’s meteoric rise in a relatively short time. To put it bluntly, the Oliva salesman of the year wins the Bert Gottfried Award; and as one person put it to me earlier, “he’s the closest thing to an Oliva without the Oliva last name.” But, you don’t understand the gravity of the loss until you converse with those who knew him well, some thoughts from those who knew the Godfather of Oliva best.
Rep. José R. Oliva, CEO — Oliva Family of Cigars:
Bert became part of our family 15 years ago. He was the consummate salesman. His unparalleled talents helped make Oliva Cigars a household name. His passion and pride are without equal. In the coming days we will announce a memorial service to celebrate our Bert. May God Bless the Great Bert Gottfried. We will miss him terribly.
Best Regards, J.R. Oliva
Jonathan Drew — Drew Estate:
Ian Hummel, Regional Sales Manager — Oliva Family of Cigars:
We’re all shocked and deeply saddened by the news of Bert’s passing early this morning. Bert, or as many called him, “The Godfather” was a legend in the tobacco industry. It was an honor to have learned from him and work beside him over the past few years that I have been with Oliva. He will be deeply missed.
Ernesto Padilla (L) & Bert Gottfried (R)
Ernesto Padilla — Padilla Cigars:
Knowing Bert for around ten years now, he always had a passion, not only for Oliva cigars, but also for the entire cigar industry. He was a bubbling character who always had a great story to share.
His passion and dedication for new projects led him to become one of the most well-known, venerated and loved guys in our industry. He was always eager, as well as excited, to give tips and helpful information because he wanted those around him to be the best they could.
Bert died doing what he loved to do; that’s why he never worked a day in his life.
Susan Gottfried — Wife of Bert Gottfried:
Bert wanted to be cremated. He did not want a funeral. He wanted a memorial celebration at a later date when we can all remember him with happiness. I am hosting a small gathering of local friends, family, and neighbors at our house on Monday the 26th any time after noon. Anyone who knew Bert is welcome. 1140 Ashlyn Dr., West Melbourne, FL 32904. If you happen to be in the area, come over. If not, do not feel guilty. Bert and I know how much he was loved and we know you’ll be here in spirit anyway.
I don’t need anything. My sisters and Bert’s daughter are with me and I am as okay as I can be. If you like, please make a donation to your favorite charity and have a card sent to me, Susan Gottfried. Know that he loved and appreciated all of you very much, as do I.
Details, which everyone wants…… Bert had 2 vascular surgeries in August. He also had 2 foot surgeries in August. He was home and progressing nicely. On Wednesday the 21st he complained of indigestion, and again on Thursday. Antacids didn’t help, so, to be safe, we went to the hospital. After many tests it was determined that he was a walking time bomb and a heart attack was immanent. Bypass surgery was scheduled immediately. He had plenty of advice regarding the necessity and what he could expect without the surgery. He consciously and independently decided to go for it. The surgery was successful and Bert was in cardiac ICU recovery. They had difficulty keeping his blood pressure up, though everything else was fine. At midnight he woke up and told his doctor he didn’t feel very good and he was awfully tired. He closed his eyes and went to sleep and his blood pressure tanked completely and they were not able to save him, though they tried valiantly. His body just couldn’t take anymore.
Bert’s spirit knew this was the best way. He was not in his car, where he might have had a heart attack and killed someone else. He was not at home where I would have to deal with it. He was in the hospital where everything would be taken care of as painlessly as possible. He was tired and it was time to go and this was the most convenient way for all concerned.
Yes, it SUCKS! BIG TIME!!! But it could have been much, much worse and I am very thankful and grateful. Susan
Bert Gottfried (L) & Abe Dabaneh (R)
Abe Dababneh — Smoke Inn Cigars:
I first met Bert about 12 years ago. I had one single small store in Tequesta Florida with no employees. This almost cartoon like character walks into my store, wearing red suspenders and colored polka-dot glasses. I remember saying to myself, “what a joke” and practically wanted to pay no mind to this clown like man. Little did I know, this man would grow into one of my most respected and fondest friends in the industry. For those who really knew Bert, knew one of the most colorful and charismatic men in the industry. There will be many memories I will never forget about my dear friend. He loved life and the people in it. I have a strong memory of Bert from the 2001 RTDA in Tampa. We were both sitting in Jonathan Drew’s Hotel room during the opening gala and just talking about life in general. I was single at the time and so was Jonathan and we were mostly sharing relationship woes. Bert broke out in a soliloquy paying homage to his wife. In my entire life I had never seen a grown man speak so deeply of how much he loved his wife and how she was his best friend on earth. I remember being moved and saying to myself “I hope I can be that lucky”
There is a nickname that Bert had which I am proud to say I gave him. Just thinking about it is bringing a smile to my face. Bert immediately attached himself to the nickname and basically wore it like gold medal around his neck. Whenever I introduced Bert to anyone, I would say….This is the “Immortal” Bert Gottfried. I used the word immortal because I knew I would never meet anyone else like him in my life. He was a true character and, as he would often like to refer to his friends, a real “mench” (Bert taught me what that word ment). Immortal is what Bert will always be to me. His chuckle like laughter will resonate in my stores for many years to come. Bert often blushed me with his praises and compliments. He loved doing events with us and forever will be remembered by myself and my staff that were blessed enough to know him.
Bert, I know you are out there, at peace with no more aches and pains. I can see you now, building the world’s largest train set way above in the clouds, wearing your engineer’s cap and smiling down on the rest of us. I can almost hear you chuckle.
Rest In Peace buddy!
Jack Sandlin, Regional Sales Manager — Oliva Family of Cigars:
Thanks so much for sharing . I am very familiar with the nickname “The Immortal” he loved it. I recently gave him another one that he also loved which was “Numero Uno”. I gave him this nickname because he was almost always the number one is sales among our sales team. He was always battling for this position with Jeff Nolen who he loved to compete with. He would call me up when our monthly report cards came out and say in that New York accent that never left him “Hey Jack have you seen the leader boards? Numero Uno baby” and we’d laugh and carry on.
I first met Bert about 8 or 9 years ago in Texas while working for another cigar company and it was like we’d known each other all our lives. Working with Bert in his territory was always a special trip. He loved what he did, loved his customers and they loved him. And the stories he could tell, wow all the way back to the late 50’s.
Bert, I will miss you greatly! You will always be with us because you are “The Immortal” and will always be at the top of my “Leader Board” as “Numero Uno Baby”!
Ron Shapiro — Cigar Factory Outlet:
“I met Bert around 1967-1968. We were both members of the Merchants and Salesmans Club of Greater NY and had some great fun in those days. It was nice to be able to reconnect all these years later. He was the consummate salesman and he will certainly be missed.”
Updated (September 26, 2011) — Quote from Brian Shapiro.
Brian Shapiro, International Sales Manager — Oliva Family of Cigars:
When I began with the Oliva Cigar Company seven years ago, my first task was creating the first Oliva Sales Team. Team member #1 was of course Bert. His love for the Oliva family and the Oliva company was overwhelming. His energy was that of five men and at that time he covered at least a dozen states. He would have covered 50 states if we asked. Having grown up in the cigar business, Bert was a throwback to the old days. I loved to listen to the stories he and my dad would share when they were together. His smile and laugh were contagious. As far as myself and the Oliva Cigar Company, Bert will always be Team Member #1 and if we were the New York Yankees, his jersey would be hanging in centerfield and there would be a monument in his honor in Monument park. I have a feeling Bert is playing cards with the rest of the cigar industries hall of famers who are no longer with us and if you listen carefully you can hear him shouting “Viva Oliva”
There will be more statements throughout the weekend and into early next week — unfortunately much of the industry is in Germany for the Intertabac trade show and information is traveling slowly. Oliva is planning on a social media tribute to Bert, more details as they are available. My condolences to the entire industry, particularly the Oliva Family, on the loss; we lost one of the good ones. — el niño diablo.