Gilberto Oliva grew up in a tobacco growing family in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, where the family began growing tobacco in 1886. In the throes of the Cuban Revolution, he fled Cuba in 1964 with his wife and young family.
They moved to Spain and then Nicaragua, where Gilberto continued as a tobacco broker. By 1969, he began growing tobacco on his own. In 1975, as Sandinista rebels were dividing Nicaragua, Gilberto and his wife -- now pregnant with their fifth child - moved the family to New Jersey where Jose was born. Months later they moved to Hialeah.
Gilberto Sr. returned to Nicaragua in 1995, where he started his own brand of cigars, Gilberto Oliva. The name would be shortened to Oliva over time.
It was a scrappy working class life for Jose and his siblings as his father worked on two continents to make ends meet. But together they grew the company to one of the largest in the world of cigars, according to halfwheel.com, an online website that focuses on the cigar industry.
In 2016, the Oliva family sold the cigar operation to J. Cortès, although the family retained its tobacco growing operations. Recently, in honor of the patriarch of the family, Oliva Cigars launched two cigar lines named after Gilberto Sr.
In October, Jose Oliva, was chosen by House Republicans to be the next House speaker after the 2018 elections. He has credited his father with instilling in him discipline, hard work and a conservative ethic.
"We’ve been able to see up close and personal the effects of government and what it can do,'' Oliva told the Herald/Times in a 2015 interview. "My father was born into a free Cuba and saw that taken. He went to Nicaragua and saw a dictator take control."
Jose's business philosophy is a simple one Gilberto Sr. instilled in his children.
"My dad always said to me do not spend more than you take in and do not buy something that you cannot afford to pay for,'' Jose said.
There was also no retiring in retirement age for Gilberto Sr. In 2015, he was still spending several weeks at a time in Nicaragua, returning to Miami and then would "go back and do it again,'' Jose said.
Gilberto Sr. is survived by his wife, five children and 14 grandchildren. There will be a mass Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at Our Lady of the Lakes, 15801 NW 67th Ave., Miami Lakes, 33014. Burial will follow.
“This is a very difficult time for the Oliva family. Gilberto Oliva Sr. is the patriarch of our company and his legacy will never end,” Cory Bappert, vice president of sales for Oliva Cigar Co., wrote in a text message to halfwheel.com. “Please keep the Oliva family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Photo courtesy of Olivacigar.com.