NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Condolences poured in yesterday for the late Jamaican hotelier and business mogul Gordon “Butch” Stewart, who has been memorialized by prominent members of society as a leading pioneer in tourism in the region.
Stewart, the founder of Sandals Resorts International, ATL Group and The Jamaica Observer, died on Monday at the age of 79.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis offered his condolences to Stewart’s family in a statement yesterday, noting that the news has saddened and shocked The Bahamas and the region.
“His commitment to the region was manifest in the economic impact of his properties throughout the region, including his resorts in The Bahamas at Sandals Royal Bahamian on New Providence and at Fowl Cay and Emerald Bay in the Exumas,” the prime minister said.
“He was a great friend and lover of the Islands of The Bahamas and the Bahamian people. Butch Stewart was an intrepid innovator. He was the ultimate dreamcatcher who was happy to listen to the ideas of others and to change his mind when inspired or enthused by the dreams and ideas of others.”
Minnis noted that at a time when The Bahamas was looking for investors to acquire government-owned hotels, Stewart was the first in line, transforming the Balmoral into the Sandals Royal Bahamian hotel, which significantly and immediately added to the number of rooms and employees of the resort and the reputation of The Bahamas.
“He was famously enthusiastic about the extraordinary potential of the Caribbean and often remarked about the still-untapped potential of the Islands of The Bahamas,” Minnis said.
Stewart’s death was confirmed in an internal memorandum issued to managers of the Sandals group by his son, Sandals Deputy Chairman Adam Stewart.
Adam Stewart acknowledged the death seemed unbelievable, noting his father chose to keep a very recent health diagnosis private.
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said he was also saddened to learn of the passing of Stewart, whom he met nearly 30 years ago in St Lucia, shortly after coming into office in 1992.
Ingraham said the “warm, cheerful and upbeat” hotelier would always call him during the holidays to spread Christmas cheer.
He recalled how he toured one of Stewart’s hotels and discussed the hotelier’s plans to introduce destinations in The Bahamas.
He noted that Stewart would keep his promise and acquired troubled properties in the country and boosted employment.
“In all my years of contact with him, whether in office or out, he never overpromised and he always fulfilled his commitments,” Ingraham said.
“He was an astute tourism businessman. I valued his advice on tourism in our region. Butch was, in my estimation, the pre-eminent Caribbean hotelier.”
Ingraham added that his fondest moments with Stewart were times spent over lazy meals at George Meyer’s house, days spent in Jamaica or fishing in the waters of The Bahamas.
“I’m honored to have counted him among my friends,” Ingraham said. “He will be greatly missed.”
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness also expressed condolences over the news of Stewart’s death.
Sandals Resorts International (SRI) in a statement described the late Stewart as “an unstoppable force who delighted in defying the odds by exceeding expectations”.
The company noted that “Butch Stewart loved Sandals”, and that at the time of his death he was planning expansions to Curaçao and St. Vincent.
“With his easy pace, infectious warmth and trademark striped shirt, Stewart exuded an approachability that belied the complexity of his character,” the statement read.
“While he was an acute businessperson…he was an extremely private man whose deepest devotion was to his family.”
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.
SRI stated that a private funeral service will be held, and those wishing to share memories, condolences or personal stories may do so at AllThatsGood@sandals.com.