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By Theresa Goodwin

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A “tower of strength, dedication and success within the Caribbean Community”, said Managing Director of Jamaica Observer, Julian Rogers MBE, as he described the late Gordon “Butch” Stewart.

Stewart, 79, chairman of the ATL Group of Companies which includes the Jamaican media company, Sandals and Beaches resorts, died in Miami, Florida, on Monday.

His son, Adam, confirmed his passing in a statement, which read, “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.

Stewart’s first project, Sandals Montego Bay in Jamaica (Photos courtesy Sandals International)

“Our father was a singular personality, an unstoppable force who delighted in defying the odds by exceeding expectations and whose passion for his family was matched only by the people and possibility of the Caribbean, for who he was a fierce champion.”

Yesterday, Rogers joined an extensive list of people across the region who reflected on the life of the hotel mogul.

“This is one of those times when you say such a man has come, there has not been one before nor after and that is not an empty statement. He came from humble beginnings, being ostensibly a salesman, with his early success of selling appliances and then acquiring a hotel and coming up with the concept of Sandals and Beaches,” Rogers told Observer media.

As far as the Jamaica Observer is concerned, he explained that Stewart, who was dissatisfied with the fact that there was only one newspaper in the country, made an investment more than 25 years ago, and the media entity has become a very important contributor to Jamaica’s development.

Rogers also pointed out that as a professional, the hotel icon was extremely generous and loyal.

“He has always given me, as a manager, the opportunity to pursue the kind of strategies that I suggest would make the enterprise successful. That has been the story that I picked up from all the managers that have worked with him across this entire region.”

Closer to home, Antiguan and Barbudan government officials have also lauded the inedible mark left by one of the region’s largest employers.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne noted that the Caribbean has lost an iconic son, a pioneer and revered businessman whose legacy includes the development of the Caribbean’s premier hotel brand, Sandals. 

“His contribution towards the socio-economic development of the region is well appreciated and he was held in high esteem by all, as one of the most successful Caribbean entrepreneurs, inspiring entrepreneurship throughout the region,” Browne said in a statement.

Tourism Minister Charles “Max” Fernandez described the late Stewart as a Caribbean giant in the industry.

Sandals Grande Antigua opened in Dickenson Bay in 1992

Political leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP) Harold Lovell said the world had “lost a star”, describing Stewart as a “visionary”, a “tough negotiator” and “a man of his word”.

Award-winning broadcast journalist and film and television producer, Mitzi Allen, also spoke of her interaction with Stewart.

“He was one of the first persons I interviewed when I relocated to Antigua years ago. He was very approachable and accessible. I am also not surprised about the success of Sandals because it is modelled after him,” she said.

Similar sentiments were also shared by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA).

“Our industry will forever be indebted to ‘Butch’ for his continued passion for excellence and legendary Caribbean hospitality,” Acting CEO and Director General Vanessa Ledesma noted in a statement.

“His vision has bestowed to the global industry a Caribbean organisation 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.

“Stewart, one of the first recipients of the Caribbean Hotelier of the Year distinction, was a great supporter of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and an inspiration to so many of us in the region.”

Sandals Resort International said Tuesday that the legendary Jamaican entrepreneur redefined the term “all-inclusive” and changed the way the world went on vacation.

In 1981, Stewart, a young entrepreneur with no hotel experience, saw the potential in a piece of waterfront land in Jamaica. He bought the property, Bay Roc, then renovated and expanded it. The rooms received dramatic facelifts, and Stewart decided to rent them to couples only. Sandals Montego Bay opened for business. He later went on to establish the Sandals brand in a number of countries, to include the Sandals Grande Resort in Antigua.

While Stewart never laid claim to inventing the all-inclusive concept, he is recognised worldwide for his tireless efforts to elevate the 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.

Sandals Resorts International called Stewart “one of the hospitality industry’s most vibrant personalities and founder of the Sandals Resorts International, the world’s leading all-inclusive resort company”. His business philosophy, according to Sandals, was “find out what the people want, give it to them and, in doing so, exceed their expectations”.

Gordon “Butch” Stewart is survived by his wife, Chyril, 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.