Gordon “Butch” Stewart, the Jamaican hotel mogul who developed Sandals into a globally recognised brand, was yesterday described by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley as a “Caribbean man of whom we are all proud.”
Dr Rowley was among leaders from across the region paying tribute to the 79-year-old legendary entrepreneur who died late Monday following a brief illness.
Stewart’s son, Adam, announced the death Monday in a memo to employees, describing it as “almost unbelievable” given his continued involvement in the business and his “forward-thinking” about the company’s future. At the time of his death, Stewart was working on plans for recently announced expansions to Curacao and St Vincent.
“He chose to keep a very recent health diagnosis private and we respected that wish,” Adam Stewart said.
There was also a statement from Sandals: “While he never laid claim to inventing the all-inclusive concept, he is recognised worldwide for his tireless effort to elevate the vacation experience, delivering to his guests an unsurpassed level of luxury, and to share his certainty that a Caribbean company could successfully compete with any organisation in the world. He accomplished both.”
In a post on his Facebook page, Dr Rowley said Stewart’s death left “a great void throughout the Caribbean.”
He said he was pleased to have interacted with him and his thoughts had left an impact on him which he had shared with colleagues in T&T and across the region.
“His legacy, as I see it, should be that he built an international brand, by giving trust, encouragement, and congratulations when required, to others, helping them to find their own way in their lives and the world.
“This death is a great loss for the region, particularly at this time when we all needed him to go forward,” Dr Rowley said.
Also paying tribute was Prof Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of UWI: “Our “Butch”, like Bob and Bolt, represents this cultural spirit of the ages. It is born to be brash, brave and brilliant, constituting a cascading commitment to nation-building and regional renaissance. Our Butch was the ‘stewart’ of this spirit and gave to Jamaica, the Caribbean and the world a performance of sheer class with cool runnings—a ‘sandalization’ of awe and amazement.”
Stewart had established hotels in several parts of the Caribbean by the time he turned his attention to Tobago where there were plans to establish a Sandals and Beaches Resort. The US$441.8 million project, which was expected to be the biggest ever undertaken by the resort group, was to be a 700 to 1,000 room resort complex intended to be a key component of the Rowley administration’s economic diversification strategy.
However, after months of negotiations that were often overshadowed by controversy, in mid-January 2019 Sandals’ executives announced that they would no longer be pursuing the project.
Born in 1941 in Kingston, Jamaica, Stewart founded Sandals Resorts in 1981 with the opening of Sandals Montego Bay. Since then the Sandals portfolio gas expended to include includes the Grand Pineapple Beach Resort brand, Fowl Cay Resort in the Bahamas and the Your Jamaican Villas private home collection.
Stewart is survived by his wife Cheryl; children Brian, Bobby, Adam, Jaime, Sabrina, Gordon and Kelly; 12 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.