Margarita Chavez Dosal, the flamboyantly fancy, gleefully generous matriarch of a family that reestablished its Cuban tobacco company in Opa-locka after fleeing the Castro regime, died Monday night at her Miami Shores home of complications from diabetes. She was 73.
A Cuban “steel magnolia’’ who rolled up her sleeves and went to work on the factory floor as her husband, his brother and father rebuilt Dosal Tobacco Corp. in 1962, she “won back our dignity and secured the future for her children and grandchildren,’’ said daughter Beatriz Margarita Bolton of Great Britain.
Her philosophy of life, said Bolton: “Give to others and enjoy life to the fullest.’’
Draped in diamonds and furs, every shimmering, coppery hair in place, Dosal took equal delight in piloting her Rolls Royce Phantom to a charity gala and to Disney World — with head-turning stops at Cracker Barrell and Dunkin’ Donuts along the way.
She treated her employees like family, covering 100 percent of their health-insurance costs, and treated her family like royalty, hosting lavish quinces and weddings for children and grandchildren.
“Except for the marriages, she was Liz Taylor,’’ said daughter Miriam Dosal Stone of Coral Gables. “She lived large. She was very eccentric and colorful. Most people will remember her incredible sense of humor. She was one of the few people who could tell bad words in jokes and they would sound glamorous on her tongue.’’
Dosal and her late husband, Martin Roberto Dosal, married in 1951, “were Lucy and Ricky Ricardo,’’ Stone said.
She adored children, and donated to Miami Children’s Hospital, which last year named an oncology-wing activities room in her honor. A maternity waiting room at Baptist Hospital also bears her name, and her family’s foundation supports a school for AIDS orphans in Kenya.
“She was beautiful, kind-hearted, very giving and a passionate children’s advocate,’’ said Lucy Morillo-Agnetti, President/CEO of Miami Children’s Hospital Foundation. “Her legacy will forever be remembered through the Margarita C. Dosal Playroom.’’
She was born to a Cuban military officer and his wife during a training stint at Fort Riley, Kan., on March 6, 1931.
She grew up in Havana, earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Smith College in Massachusetts, taught kindergarten, then fled Cuba with three small children in 1959.
“We were in New York when Batista fell,’’ Miriam Stone recalled. “We went back [to Cuba] and gathered up a few things because they were sure they’d be going back.’’
Like thousands of other exiles, the Dosals never did. But they had money in a New York bank, and were able to start over.
After Martin Roberto died in 1992, his widow became president, holding 100 percent of the voting stock, said Yolanda Nader, CEO/CFO for 11 years.
Bolton compared her mother to Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, pulling herself together despite her heartbreak.
Dosal markets the cigarette brands 305, DTC and Competidora in Florida and Texas, mainly at drug stores, mom-and-pop groceries and convenience stores. They generally sell for about $4 per pack, substantially less than premium brands, and aren’t advertised beyond the point of sale.
Competidora, once popular in Cuba, hardly sells, but Nader said that Margarita Dosal maintained the brand for the sake of tradition.
Nader said the Dosal brands account for 1 percent of all cigarette sales in the United States, and according to The Wall Street Journal, aren’t far behind industry giants R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris in Florida.
While Dosal left Nader to run the operation, “all the major decisions, like equipment purchases, were brought to her for her approval,’’ said Nader.
Dosal left meticulous plans for the company’s future so it would stay in the family after her death, Nader said.
“It’s in a trust and professionally managed. She had the gumption to do what she had to do to protect the company and children....She had the sense of responsibility to protect this legacy.’’
She also took steps to protect her developmentally disabled son, Martin, who lived with her. He’ll live with a Dosal employee who became her mother’s personal secretary, and the woman’s husband, Dosal’s driver/valet.
During Margarita Dosal’s tenure as president, the company became entangled in the State of Florida’s mammoth, 1990s-era lawsuit against the tobacco companies. The state dropped Dosal from the suit before it settled in 1997 for some $300 annually, funds designed to reimburse state Medicaid programs that treat sick smokers.
Since then, Dosal has been battling annual attempts in the Legislature to impose a per-pack fee on its brands which, said Nader, Big Tobacco is pushing.
The company maintains a website called savedosal.com, which notes that 300 Florida families depend on Dosal for their livelihoods.
Dosal was long active in La Liga Contra El Cancer, said Lourdes Aguila-Meneses, board chairwoman, daughter and niece respectively of the group’s founder, the late Lourdes Aguila and her brother, Mario Palacio — whose wife, Carmen, was Margarita Dosal’s best friend and travelling companion.
They once took a luxury cruise together to the Galapagos Islands with a private butler.
“She was a beautiful beautiful lady inside and out,’’ said Aguila-Meneses. “Always impeccable, very giving throughout the community, and she was a shrewd businesswoman.’’
Dosal threw picnics and parties for her employees, Nader said, and would hand out bonuses herself.
A woman of deep faith, Dosal belonged to St. Rose of Lima Parish, but she wanted her memorial gathering to be festive.
So after an 11:30 a.m. Friday Mass at St. Rose of Lima Church, 415 NE 105th St., Miami Shores, loved ones and employees will gather at 1:30 p.m. for a champagne buffet at Miami Shores Country Club, 10000 Biscayne Blvd. — background music by Frank Sinatra and Chilean crooner Lucho Gatico.
Dosal’s ashes will be placed next to her husband’s body at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Cemetery in Doral.
In addition to daughters Beatriz and Miriam, and son Martin, Dosal is survived by daughter Margarita Owen of New Zealand, and son George of Fort Lauderdale.
The family suggests memorial donations to the Dosal Family Foundation, 4775 NW 132nd St., Miami, FL 33045.