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Butch Stewart, the Jamaican who revolutionised the Caribbean, has sadly died, aged 79 – Mary Killen

Blog | By Mary Killen | Jan 05, 2021

Butch Stewart with Rachel Johnson on his yacht, Lady Sandals. The Bahamas, 2010 Photo credit: Ivo Dawnay

The Jamaican businessman Butch Stewart, who has died aged 79, built an empire in the Caribbean which included the Sandals and Beaches hotel chains and the Jamaican Observer newspaper. Plus many business franchises. He employed 15,000 people in the Caribbean region where he was as famous as our own Queen.

I met him in 1999 when in the boom days of journalism, I was commissioned to write a piece for the Telegraph Saturday magazine about Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee - the best, and most expensive, in the world because it makes you naturally high but not jittery.

Butch flew me out. He had no financial interest in Blue Mountain coffee. He just wanted more jobs for his people and was prepared to finance the flying-out and accommodation of journalists to achieve this. His PR drove me around the island. I had been afraid of its bad reputation but I was shown that only certain parts were dangerous and I fell in love with Jamaica and its people who reminded me so much of the Irish - eccentric, artistic, addicted, religious, warm and straight-talking.

One thing led to another, I bonded with Butch and began to work for him. I went there about twenty times over the last twenty years, usually leading parties of journalists, so I could share my enthusiasm for the islands and hope they would write favourably so as to drive tourism and investment.

Butch shared his toys with us, we stayed in his hotels, and he took us on his boats and his light aircraft. He loved meeting writers and politicos and I hosted many dinners for him in London. Among those I led to the Caribbean were Richard Ingrams, Lucinda Lambton, Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, Lord Deedes, Peter McKay, Craig Brown, Cristina Odone, Toby Young, Jeremy Clarke, Molly Dineen and then Vogue writer Char Pilcher. Butch was life enhancement personified. You can imagine the fun we had in our minibuses driving through this earthly paradise.

Butch started work at nine years old, making tea for returning fishermen on the beach at Ocho Rios. His break came when air-conditioning units first came out and he sold them in the streets of Kingston. He became famous amongst the Kingston women because if you bought a unit from Butch Stewart, not only did he install it within 24 hours, he made good the hole.

Soon. he was leading a team of equally reliable and dynamic unit-installers and soon he had enough money to buy his first hotel. Each year, his resorts became more sophisticated and it is no exaggeration that going to Sandals was like having a preview of heaven. Butch mixed with all sorts from the ruling classes of the Caribbean, USA and Uk but he himself was always happiest playing dominoes with old Jamaican schoolfriends.

I am lucky in that, even before he became ill, I was able to express my love for him and my admiration for his (successful) efforts to give his people work. A great man who would have had a state funeral in Jamaica, had it not been for Covid.