Legendary hotelier Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart died in the United States yesterday (January 4) during a period of illness, sending grief throughout especially his native Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean.
Stewart, 79, was a self-made business mogul, born to parents Gordon and Jean in Kingston on 6 July 1941.
He grew up in the then fishing village of Ocho Rios, St. Ann, and would catch and sell fish to local businesses during his childhood.
Stewart started working just before he turned 17.
After studying in England, he returned to Jamaica and, at age 22, he started working at the Dutch-owned Curaçao Trading Company. He became head of the company’s appliance department.
Stewart left Curaçao Trading in 1968 and started his own company – Appliance Traders Limited (ATL), initially buying 27 room air conditioners to be re-sold.
The local economy suffered a major blow and ATL faced a tough task sourcing US-dollar to buy air conditioning units from the United States-based Fedders.
Stewart mulled a creative way to start earning the US currency. In 1980, he ventured into tourism.
He bought and renovated two relatively small rundown hotels – Bay Roc and Carlyle On The Bay, located at Montego Bay in St. James.
In 1981, Stewart commenced operation as Sandals Montego Bay. He never looked back.
He became a luminary in the hotel industry, with expansion of Sandals into other Jamaican parishes and into more than a dozen other Caribbean islands.
Stewart eventually diversified his hotel offerings when he launched the Beaches brand in 1997.
He started the Jamaica Observer newspaper in 1993.
Stewart is recipient of several accolades and awards, including the Order of Jamaica and Order of Distinction.
His death yesterday sent shock-waves particularly throughout Jamaica, where Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding both paused to honour the tourism legend.
The prime minister, in a statement, described Stewart as one of Jamaica’s most brilliant, innovative and transformative business minds. “Butch was a man way ahead of his time,” he further said.
The Leader of the Opposition commented: “Jamaica has lost one of its most innovative and successful business leaders, and a truly immense figure on the national and international stage.”
Deputy Chairman of the Sandals Group, Adam Stewart, said the death of his father, who was Chairman of Sandals, seems almost unbelievable.
“He was a marketing genius and talented showman, but those who knew him best recognized that he was a dreamer who could dream bigger and better than anyone,” Adam said in a press release.
He added: “My dad lived a big life – husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather entrepreneur, statesman, dreamer. A singular personality and an unstoppable force who reveled in defying the odds, exceeding expectations and whose passion for his family was matched only by the people and possibility of the Caribbean, for whom he was a fierce champion. There will never be another quite like him and we will miss him forever.”
Regarding his father’s business, Adam commented: “I look forward to speaking with you soon and sharing thoughts about the incredible future of this company built by this most incredible man.”
In relation to his father’s illness, he told the press: “He chose to keep a very recent health diagnosis private and we respected that wish.”
The elder Stewart has eight children. The third of his five sons, Jonathan, died in a car crash in the United States in 1990. He was 24.
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