Shortly after graduating from Upper Merion High School in 1960, Clinton O. Price Sr. married his high school sweetheart and went to work for John Middleton Inc., manufacturers of pipe and cigar tobacco. Both were good moves for him. He eventually became chairman of a company that sold for $2.9 billion, and his marriage lasted nearly his entire life.

Mr. Price, 65, died Saturday at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania from injuries suffered last Thursday in an automobile accident in Upper Merion.

Mr. Price married Sondra Reynolds in the fall of 1960, months after they had graduated from Upper Merion. She died of cancer Nov. 13.

He retired this month as chairman of John Middleton Inc., a cigar and pipe tobacco firm with facilities in King of Prussia and Limerick. In November, he helped negotiate the sale of the company for $2.9 billion in cash to Altria Group Inc., parent of Philip Morris U.S.A. He had planned to play an advisory role during the transition.

"A fierce competitor in business, he was a warm and gentle person who will best be remembered as a family man, for if you were a friend or an employee, you were part of his family," said Orrin W. Ridington Jr., president of John Middleton Inc. in a statement.

John Middleton Inc. was established in 1856 as a tobacco shop in Center City and in 1950 expanded into manufacturing. Mr. Price went to work for the company as an hourly factory worker in 1960 and through a series of promotions, became the first non-Middleton to head the firm.

He served on the board of the Tobacco Merchants Association, was chairman of the Pipe Tobacco Council and was treasurer of the Cigar Association of America.

The achievement Mr. Price was most proud of, his family said, was helping to develop the company's best-selling product, Black & Mild brand cigars, which was introduced in 1968. As his company's chief engineer at the time, he designed and built the machinery and the production process to manufacture the cigar - the first to be made from pipe tobacco, which is chopped up, making it easier to be blended.

He is survived by sons Clinton Jr., Jack, Timothy and Andrew; a daughter, Jill Dickson; his mother, Sara Conran; two brothers; five sisters and 12 grandchildren.

A life celebration service will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. tomorrow at Boyd-Horrox Funeral Home, 200 W. Germantown Pike, East Norriton. Burial, at Valley Forge Memorial Gardens, is private.

Memorial donations may be made to the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, 3400 Spruce St., Philadelphia 19104.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.