By NAN Staff Writer
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Tues. Jan. 5, 2021: Tributes have begun pouring in following the passing of one of the Caribbean’s top hotelier’s, Sandal’s Founder and Chairman, Gordon Arthur Cyril ‘Butch’ Stewart, OJ, CD.
Stewart, the founder and chairman of the Appliance Traders Group of Companies, which includes Sandals and Beaches Resorts and the Jamaica Observer, died last night in Miami following an undisclosed illness. He was 79.
His son, Adam Stewart, said on the death of his father: “It is with great sadness that I share with you today the passing of my father, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart. This news seems almost unbelievable, since he was as involved and forward-thinking as ever. He chose to keep a very recent health diagnosis private and we respected that wish.”
“It is with deep sadness that I learnt of the passing of one of Jamaica’s most brilliant, innovative and transformative business minds, the Honourable Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart OJ, CD, Hon. LLD,” Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness posted on Twitter.
He said the late entrepreneur was a visionary. “Butch was a man way ahead of his time, he had an eye for details and his ability to market and deliver world class service in any endeavor was tremendously distinctive,” said PM Holness. “He was an extraordinary human being with an unwavering commitment to the social good. He has left his unmistakable mark across the region & the world & we shall miss him dearly. …. This loss is not just Jamaica’s it is the Caribbean’s.”
Former Jamaica Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller also sent condolences, adding: “Jamaica has lost one of her finest sons. His family has lost a loving husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. His workers have lost their leader and motivator and so many of us have lost a friend. My condolences to the Stewart family and the extended work family. Rest in peace Gordon “Butch” Stewart. We will never forget how you changed Jamaica for the better and positively impacted so many lives.”
St. Lucia’s Prime Minister, Allan Chastanet said “Stewart was never an ordinary man.”
“He dreamed big, he thought big, he acted big. He was a visionary, a pioneer and a trailblazer,” he added. “His son Adam described him as a ‘superhero’ and I concur because what he did for this region as a whole and for the islands in which he invested was transformative. I am forever grateful for the time we had together and I will forever cherish all that I learnt from him.”
“Gordon Butch Stewart has made an indelible mark. He has established himself as not just the standard by which entrepreneurship can be judged, but he has established a brand that has become global and is also the strongest statement that small island states such as Jamaica can make on global scenes, irrespective of their areas of involvement,” said Jamaica’s Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett. “I think that we can look back on his life and times and draw inspiration from the success that he has had. But I think, most importantly, we can be inspired by his resilience and the fact that he has started from nowhere, and has ended up as being one of the most celebrated human beings that Jamaica has produced in the last century.”
The Jamaica Hotel Tourism Association remembered Stewart as “a tourism industry giant who founded Sandals Resorts, an empire that defined the all-inclusive experience in Caribbean” while Vanessa Ledesma, Acting CEO and Director General of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association said: “Our industry will forever be indebted to ‘Butch’ for his continued passion for excellence and legendary Caribbean hospitality. His vision has bestowed to the global industry a Caribbean organization that adheres to the highest standards of excellence, celebrates and promotes the region’s uniqueness, and invests in the development of our people and communities.”
“The Honorable Gordon “Butch” Stewart was our bold champion who spread across the Caribbean the message that high-end sustainable tourism can enrich our destinations and our people,” said Joseph Boschulte, Commissioner of Tourism, U.S. Virgin Islands while Chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board John Lynch, who worked with Stewart for decades, remembered him for “his passion and vision for tourism in Jamaica and across the wider Caribbean region.”
“He will be remembered for his groundbreaking work in growing the all-inclusive concept here and in the Caribbean and we’re confident his rich legacy will be preserved,” Lynch added.
“His was a virtual lifetime of high performance, devotion to country and the Caribbean and commitment to excellence in the hospitality sector,” the Caribbean Tourism Organization added in a statement. “Stewart was a mentor to many, and his contributions have touched almost every sector of Jamaican and Caribbean society. His passing is a great loss to the entire region. He was a true travel and tourism and business icon and his legacy will shape future generations.”
Invest Caribbean, the global private sector investment agency of the Caribbean, said the region has lost a tourism giant who believed in and truly “invested Caribbean.”
Invest Caribbean presented the ICN Leadership Awardee to the Hon. Gordon ‘Butch Stewart’ in 2014 for his investment, commitment, and dedication to the Caribbean.
“It is with great sadness I read of the passing of the Hon. Gordon Butch Stewart this morning. He was truly inspiring to me as an entrepreneur, predominantly because he believed in the Caribbean when many dismissed the region as too small. He created a brand that has become globally synonymous with the Caribbean region at a time when few hotels in the region was owned by any Caribbean national,” said ICN founder and CEO, Felicia J. Persaud. “His vision, dedication and commitment to the region and to raising the bar in service excellence in the tourism field was world renown and his legacy will live on to inspire future generations.”
At the time, Stewart said of the award: “It is an honor to be considered a leader among those serving and succeeding in the Caribbean. My work here, the companies I have built, the jobs we have created and the people we have served are the best example of what is possible in the Caribbean and why we must continue to invest here at home.”
And he added: “the Caribbean region remains a great business investment and still offers ‘the single best holiday product in the world.’”
Stewart was born in 1941 in Kingston, Jamaica. He grew up along the north-coast of the country, where he adopted his nickname, given to him by an American sailor. As a child, Stewart helped out at his mother’s appliance dealership, and at 12, he bought a small canoe he used to catch fish and sell them to the local hotels. He then bought a larger boat which he operated until age 17.
After completing his education in England, Stewart became a salesman and eventually rose to become the sales manager of Dutch-owned Curaçao Trading Company. Stewart later left in 1968 to found his own business, Appliance Traders, Ltd. which specialized at first in importing and selling air conditioning units, water coolers and stoves but has grown to sell almost everything.
In April 1981, Stewart bought two derelict hotels, the Bay Roc and the Carlisle in Montego Bay. The Bay Roc had been abandoned for more than five years when Stewart hired architect Evan Williams to renovate the hotel for $4 million and reopen it the same year as the Sandals Resort Beach Club, later known as Sandals Montego Bay. Stewart founded Sandals Resorts which was the first company to popularize the sale of all-inclusive holidays in the Caribbean.
Stewart is credited with several innovations in the hospitality industry, most notably building the Caribbean’s first swim-up bar at Sandals Montego Bay Resort in Jamaica in 1984.
In 1985, Stewart opened his second hotel as the Sandals Carlisle which was followed the next year by Sandals Royal Caribbean, “the only resort in Jamaica with its own private island”. Over the next few years, Stewart expanded Sandals Resort to Negril in 1988 and to Ocho Rios in 1989. In 1991, he opened a second resort in Ocho Rios near the Dunn’s River Falls and also opened Sandals Antigua, his first resort outside Jamaica. He added two more resorts to the Sandals chain in Saint Lucia, Sandals La Toc and Sandals Halcyon Beach, which opened in 1993. Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau opened in 1996 and, in 1997, Stewart started a second resort chain geared towards children and families with the opening of a Beaches Resort in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands.
Stewart also founded The Jamaica Observer newspaper in January 1993 and, in 1994, started the Air Jamaica Acquisition Group to buy a majority stake in Air Jamaica. The group paid $37.5 million for a majority share of the airline; of which, Stewart held a 46 percent stake and became the new chairman of Air Jamaica. Stewart’s group sold their shares of the airline back to the Jamaican Government in 2004.
In November 2006, Stewart became chairman of Sandals and Beaches Resorts after appointing his son Adam Stewart as CEO. In 2012, Stewart founded Sandals Corporate University, an adult education program for Caribbean nationals employed by Sandals Resorts, Beaches Resorts and Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts, provided in partnership by Canada-based Ryerson University, Western Hospitality Institute of Jamaica and the Jamaica Foundation for Life Long Learning. As of 2012, Stewart’s businesses employed more than 10,000 people in the Caribbean across various industries including hospitality, restaurant, automotive, retail, and media.
Stewart is survived by his wife, Cheryl, children Brian, Bobby, Adam, Jaime, Sabrina, Gordon, and Kelly; grandchildren Aston, Sloane, Camden, Penelope-Sky, Isla, Finley, Max, Ben, Zak, Sophie, Annie and Emma; and great grandchildren Jackson, Riley, Emmy and Willow.
A private funeral service will be held. Those wishing to share memories, condolences or personal stories may do so at AllThatsGood@sandals.com