Few people I have ever met are what I would consider larger-than-life. Butch Stewart was one of those men; and as 2021 gets underway, the travel industry is a lot poorer for our loss; yet a lot richer for the legacy left behind by Gordon “Butch” Stewart.
Like many, I was shocked to learn that Stewart passed away on January 4th in Miami of a “recent” undisclosed illness at age 79.
In 1981, at age 40, Stewart founded the first Sandals in Montego Bay and never looked back. His empire thrived on the desire to provide a truly adults only, all-inclusive experience to primarily European and American visitors to the island. Over the years, Stewart saw the expansion to include 15 properties under the Sandals brand, 3 under the family-friendly Beaches Brand, and smaller additional brands to include Grand Pineapple Beach, Fowl Cay Resort, and Jamaican Villas. At one time, he owned the defunct Air Jamaica to shuttle guests from Europe and the United States to his resorts. Butch Stewart had a dream, and a vision.
And for those that had the honor (and it was an honor) to meet and know Butch, he seemed a lot younger than the age on his passport might indicate. His smile was permanently affixed to his face and you just knew it was authentic. As he visited the properties, as a guest, you would be hard pressed to know that he was anyone other than another employee making sure your stay was up to speed.
Meeting Butch was always memorable for everyone. I remember the first time I met Butch. It was at a Star Awards Ceremony back in 2002. I am not sure exactly what I was expecting, but a larger-than-life white man with a beaming smile and one of the heaviest Jamaican accents I have ever heard was not what I was expecting. It took me by surprise and it must have been obvious to Butch who said, “weren’t expecting the accent right?” And then there was a big paw of a hand on my shoulder and off to the bar we went for a drink.
CEOs and industry titans are often unapproachable. In the travel industry, we are fortunate that many of our corporate leaders are very approachable, from Gary Kelly and his predecessor Herb Kelleher at Southwest, to Richard Fain at Royal Caribbean to former NCL CEO Andy Stuart. And Butch Stewart likely wrote the manual for the rest to follow.
Sandals has been ably led by Stewart’s son, Adam for several years and is in good hands moving forward into 2021 and beyond; but make no mistake, Adam has some large shoes to fill. And from my perspective, Butch truly represented the three words with which he signed each of his letters—“All that’s good.” Butch Stewart, you will be missed!