BOCA RATON – It’s ironic, Richard DiMeola recently told the Rotary Club of Boca Raton, that at the Winston Churchill Museum, the ever-present cigar he smoked has been airbrushed out of the portrait at the entryway.
DiMeola, who spent years in the cigar trade and, in retirement now, continues to create his own brand, offered Rotarians a light journey through the industry that has had its ups and downs – from the embargo against Cuban imports through the anti-tobacco era to the current upsurge in interest in the famed “sticks.”
He peppered his dissertation with quotes from and about celebrities famous for their association with cigars, in particular, Winston Churchill
DiMeola, husband of health guru and Boca Raton Tribune columnist Oleda Baker, who was present at the meeting, was he was working for an importer of cigars at the time of the embargo that followed the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
He offered a quip about President John F. Kennedy, an inveterate cigar smoker. DiMeola said the president asked his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, to get him 1,200 Cuban cigars. When the deed was done and Salinger brought him the large quantity of cigars, Kennedy pulled out the embargo documents and signed them.
Comedian George Burns was never without his cigar – or a good quip. “He used to smoke El Producto,” said DiMeola. “We used to deliver boxes to his house.”
Another funny man associated with cigars was Groucho Marx. DiMeola recalled that on his show, “You Bet Your Life,” Groucho was speaking to a man who said he had 17 children. When Groucho asked why, the man said, “I love my wife.” To which Groucho answered, “Well I love my cigar, but I take it out every now and then.”
While Churchill was best known for his cigar smoking, DiMeola said he was also known to drink a bit. He recalled an exchange between DiMeola and Lady Astor, the first female Member of Parliament. During a meeting, she said to Churchill, ‘”You’re drunk.” And Churchill answered, “And you’re ugly. But I will be sober in the morning.”
Another bit of acrimony surfaced when Lady Astor said to Churchill, “If I found out I was married to you, I’d put poison in your tea.” Churchill responded: “If I knew I was married to you, I’d drink it.”
Mark Twain offered what DiMeola called “most interesting” comments about cigars. Twain once said, “I have a rule never to smoke more than one at a time.”
DiMeola also walked the crowd through the production of cigars, discussing the cheaper brands made with stems and cut leaves, and the more expensive ones created from rolled, full leaves. “They are vastly different than the mass-produced ones,” he said.
He also noted that cigars “are not a cigarette substitute.” Cigar smokers don’t inhale the smoke and they smoke only a few a week.
With the embargo in effect for nearly 50 years, the Dominican Republic has become the largest maker of cigars in the world, followed by Nicaragua and then Cuba.
His own brand is called DiMeola, and is available at dimeola.com.