If Jamaica had a certain way of measuring the full value of the contribution of its citizens, we might well declare Gordon “Butch” Stewart the most valuable Jamaican, and that indisputably puts him among that rare constellation of national heroes.
But Butch, the affectionate moniker he has always preferred, defies easy definition. As the larger-than-life, unstoppable force that he really was, he can only be seen to be as Antiguan, Bahamian, Barbadian, Grenadian, St Lucian, and Turks and Caicos Islander, in short, as Caribbean as he was Jamaican.
And he saw to it before his sudden passing on Monday that the Sandals empire he built would expand beyond those magical isles to St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Curacao — his first foray outside the English-speaking Commonwealth Caribbean.
The question that was always going to be relevant is: How will men speak the name Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart? Will he be remembered mainly as the hotelier who inveigled millions of tourists to escape the icy chill of their northern climes to cavort in the warm, blue waters that lap the beguiling Caribbean shores?
In doing so, he outshone even governments by becoming the largest private employer, the largest foreign exchange earner, the largest taxpayer and, like the pied piper of Hamlin, attracted some of the world’s largest airlines to tiny, hitherto unseen Caribbean islands.
Or will he be the philanthropist with a passion for sharing his innate generosity of spirit and worldly means with all and sundry, drawing deep satisfaction from lifting men and women above their stations?
With all the accolades that followed him everywhere, Butch Stewart relished in nothing more than the knowledge that he had found ways to give back to the communities in which he had scattered his hotels — through Sandals Foundation; and to the employees who interpreted his wildly spectacular dreams and expansive vision to create profitable entities — through the Appliance Traders Limited (ATL) Pension Fund.
Butch Stewart belonged to that generation of Jamaicans who believe in honour and fairness. He was a hard and astute negotiator, but an unwavering man of his word, once he gave it.
The deluge of tributes set off by his death — unexpected because he remained engaged to the end — is the inarguable litmus test of the many ways in which he touched, often transforming thousands of lives, both near and far. It is for that, we suspect, he would rather be remembered.
Jamaica generously shared this remarkable international man of business with the world. We will miss him to no end. But we will find some consolation in the knowledge that our nation, nay the Caribbean, is the true monument to the life of one of the really great men of our time — this Gordon Arthur Cyril “Butch” Stewart.
We express our deepest condolence to his widow Cheryl, his daughters Jamie, Sabrina, and Kelly, and sons Brian, Bobby, Adam, and Gordon; his legion of team members and admirers.
Farewell, Butch. Rest well.