“He took us to the world and gave us something in return” – the words of Front Office Manager at Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa Leslie Warner on the legacy of the late Chairman of Sandals Resorts International, the Hon. Gordon “Butch” Stewart.
There isn’t a more fitting way to describe the contribution of Mr. Stewart, the humanitarian, pioneer, visionary who played a pivotal role in increasing Antigua & Barbuda’s visibility on the world stage as a tourist destination.
“I think his legacy to Antigua and the Caribbean is that he has brought a lot of attention to Antigua,” the front office manager said. “Most people have heard of Jamaica, but he has helped to make other islands known.”
In fact, this country was the late chairman’s foray in establishing a resort outside of Jamaica; Sandals Grande Antigua was therefore the first resort to be opened outside of Jamaica in 1991.
Through the numerous advertisements on international television of Sandals Grande Antigua, many viewers learned of the twin-island-state and subsequently booked their vacation to visit the land of 365 beaches. It was a great part of the vision of this “giant of a man.”
Shockwaves reverberated across Antigua & Barbuda, the Caribbean region and across the world when the announcement was made on the night of January 4, 2021 that Mr. Stewart passed away.
The following morning, calmness filled the air and not a branch swayed at Sandals Grande Antigua. The serenity of the atmosphere depicted the somberness of the day.
As team members tried to process the news mentally, some told stories about their interactions with the late chairman.
As the days went by, several employees, who worked closely with Mr. Stewart at some point during their career, shared the experiences they had with him. Beyond his many accomplishments, many spoke of ‘Butch’ Stewart, the man.
“The passion for hospitality came from Mr. Stewart’s heart,” General Manager Matthew Cornall said. “I feel as though he is still with us, in that, we will continue his legacy.”
“I feel truly honoured and privileged to be a part of this organisation which our late chairman founded almost 40 years ago,” the general manager added.
Meanwhile, the front office manager, who has been with the company since 1997, described his personality as larger than life.
“I think he had a very big personality,” she said. “It’s amazing that he remembered who his guests were,” Warner said, referencing an occasion where he saw some return guests and knew their names and country of origin. “He really cared about the property; he really cared about the people.”
It was his personality that led her to stay in the hospitality industry and also at Sandals for over two decades.
“He set the pace; he was the personality behind Sandals,” she said. “I fell in love with Sandals before I came here because I went to hospitality school wanting to come here. When I heard I was coming here, I hit the roof.”
She credited the company, through his leadership, for opening doors for team members by offering performance awards, promotions and scholarships.
Meanwhile, Executive Assistant Manager Nicolaas Bersma shared similar sentiments about the late chairman.
Bersma first met Mr. Stewart in 1986 in Montego Bay when he (Bersma) began working with the company. Bersma described him as a “jovial, genuine, caring humanitarian” who had a great sense of humour.
“There is no one else who could tell a joke like he could,” Bersma said. “He liked to make people smile. He liked to tell people stories.”
The executive assistant manager remembered moving to Antigua in the early 1990’s from Sandals Montego Bay. He recounted an occasion where a couple visited the resort shortly after the female had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. The late chairman granted the couple a week free of charge, Bersma noted.
“His sincerity was really touching,” the executive assistant manager said. “He always said, ‘when you give, make sure you give well.’ “…I would say his humanitarian side was also part of his legacy. He helped others, but at the same time, he helped others to help themselves.”
Mr. Stewart’s down-to-earth personality was further evidenced by his customary playing of domino with taxi drivers as soon as he visited the property, the executive assistant manager said.
Assistant Food and Beverage Manager Sean Davis also had great stories to share. He began working with the company as a restaurant supervisor in January, 1996 when the resort reopened after the passage of Hurricane Luis.
Davis recalled being “fascinated” when he met Mr. Stewart later that year. In fact, once Mr. Stewart met Davis, the late chairman assigned him to handle all his meals whenever he visited Antigua.
“He loved hearty soups and in the earlier days, he also loved fresh Antiguan lobster,” Davis said. “He always wanted a cappuccino after dinner.”
The “approachable” Mr. Stewart, as Davis described him, “was a down-to-earth guy. He would talk to the taxi drivers, to the beach vendors. He was a regular guy who wasn’t flashy. He didn’t want to be in the spotlight.”
In a unique recount of interactions with the late chairman, another employee, Senior Administrator Joyann Looby-Bryan explained that she first met him in 1991, unbeknownst to her that he was the chairman of Sandals.
Back then, she worked as a server at the then resort that was located on Dickenson Bay. A man in a blue jeans and T-shirt frequented one of the restaurants at that resort. He always requested water. She remembered him one day saying that he heard the hotel was sold.
“Are they going to hire you?” she remembered him asking. “Maybe they will like you. You never know.”
A conference was held not long after and she said her face “dropped” when she found out that the customer who always requested the water was, in fact, Mr. Stewart.
She has worked with the company ever since. When she later became ill, his generosity was shown.
“During my sickness, he was more than a boss. He was a very compassionate person,” Looby-Bryan said. “He was a person who cared for his staff and listened to his staff. You would see him and wouldn’t know he is the owner for Sandals. I’m going to miss him.”
“He paved the way for who I am today,” she added. “That is why I always put the company first. I am very passionate about my work. Even today, I will never let him down even in his grave.”
Former Human Resources Manager Veronica Carlos also worked closely with the late chairman after he purchased the Dickenson Bay property in 1989.
“He was not a person to procrastinate,” she said. “Because I was a go getter, I think we clicked right away.”
“It never changed,” she said of the rapport she had with him. “It just grew stronger as I continued to work for the company.”
Throughout the years, his love for the company and employees never waned.
“It was dear to his heart. He loved his company,” she said. “He always wanted the best for his team members and guests. He was very popular among our returning guests.”
Carlos added, “I don’t know if I can find another company on island that has done as much for its team members as Sandals.”
Hotel Manager Leighton Josephs first met Mr. Stewart in 1995 when he worked at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay. He, too, referenced his “down-to-earth” personality and said the late chairman had a laugh so infectious it could be heard a good distance away.
Mr. Stewart, as Josephs explained, stayed true to self.
“He never lost himself,” Josephs said. “When you saw him on CNN, he would always say he is a Caribbean man.”
“He had a special love for Sandals Grande Antigua,” Josephs said. “It is the flagship outside of Jamaica.”
As the 700 plus team members at Sandals Grande Antigua continue to fulfill Mr. Stewart’s legacy by providing world-renowned service to the guests, they wish to express sincerest condolences, once again, to his family.