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.