Olga Casteleiro de Goizueta – an Atlanta philanthropist and widow of influential Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Roberto C. Goizueta – died Nov. 16 at the age of 81.

Mrs. Goizueta, who was known as Olguita by her closest friends, was an important behind-the-scenes presence during her husband’s long career at Coca-Cola. After his death in 1997, Mrs. Goizueta took leadership of the Goizueta Foundation.

Roberto Goizueta and Olga Casteleiro met as teen-agers in Cuba, were both grew up as part of prominent families.

Courtesy of the Goizueta Foundation

Like her husband, Mrs. Goizueta – formerly Casteleiro – was a native of Cuba. She was born April 18, 1934, in Havana. Olga and Roberto met in their teens. Both came from very prominent families, and they were married in June 1953.

At first, the family lived in Cuba. Mr. Goizueta earned a degree at Yale University and worked for his father, but he soon took a job with Coca-Cola in Cuba after answering a classified ad in a Havana newspaper.

Fidel Castro gained power in 1959 and, the next year, the Goizueta family decided to flee the country. Mrs. Goizueta left for Miami with their three children; Mr. Goizueta followed shortly after. She never returned to Cuba.

Roberto Goizueta signed a barrel during a visit to Spain with his wife.

Photo from Coca-Cola archives

The family settled in Miami with very little money and few possessions. Mr. Goizueta did, however, still have a job at Coca-Cola.

Over the years, Mr. Goizueta moved up the leadership ranks and, in 1980, became president of Coca-Cola. He served as chairman and CEO from 1981 until his death in 1997 at age 65.

Through it all, Mrs. Goizueta was a close observer of some of the biggest events in the company’s history. In 1982, Mr. Goizueta successfully led the charge to acquire Columbia Pictures. He needed to win the backing of former Chairman Robert W. Woodruff, a giant figure in company history. Even though Woodruff was in failing health, he still held enormous sway over the proposed deal.

This portrait of the Goizuetas, painted by artist Ross Rossin, hangs in the offices of the Goizueta Foundation in Atlanta.

Courtesy of the Goizueta Foundation

Mrs. Goizueta chatted with Woodruff after the Columbia deal was approved. “He took Olguita Goizueta’s hand and told her he was counting on her husband ‘to run my company for many, many years,’” according to Secret Formula, a history of the company.

Mrs. Goizueta held many leadership roles on her own, through volunteer work with the Atlanta History Center, the Latin American Association, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the High Museum of Art and many others. She was a past member of the Board of Trustees of Emory University, where the business school is named for her husband.

Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent met with Olga Goizueta during a visit to east central Europe in 1993. 

Photo from Coca-Cola archives

Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, said Mrs. Goizueta played a vital role in shaping the lives of those around her. “She was an important influence on Roberto,” Kent said. “Olguita provided guidance and counsel that helped Roberto as he led Coca-Cola during a time of tremendous growth and success.

“I had the fortune and pleasure of knowing Roberto and Olguita personally, and some of the highlights of my early career were traveling frequently with them in my territory, which I ran for the company in the mid 90s,” Kent said. “Our thoughts and prayers and sympathies are with the Goizueta family.”

Olga Goizueta is survived by three children: son Javier, left, daughter Olga and son Roberto. 

Photo by Greg Scott, courtesy of the Goizueta Foundation

The Goizuetas’ survivors include three children: daughter Olga Goizueta Rawls and sons Javier C. Goizueta and Roberto S. Goizueta.

Javier Goizueta is a well-known executive at Coca-Cola, where he is president of the McDonald’s Division. He plans to retire at the end of 2015, marking the conclusion of a 34-year business career, including the last 14 years at Coca-Cola.

Olga Rawls is chair and CEO of the Goizueta Foundation in Atlanta. Roberto S. Goizueta is a prominent theologian at Boston College, where he is the Margaret O'Brien Flatley Professor of Catholic Theology.

The Goizueta Foundation – where Mrs. Goizueta was chair emeritus – has had a sizable impact in Atlanta and beyond. In 2014 alone, the foundation gave grants totaling more than $43 million to groups and institutions ranging from Emory University to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

Roberto and Olga Goizueta toured Coca-Cola's east central Europe operations in 1993, when current Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent was an executive in the region. 

Photo from Coca-Cola archives