Gordon 'Butch' Stewart: A patriot, entrepreneur par excellence

Gordon 'Butch' Stewart: A patriot, entrepreneur par excellence


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

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As I promised in my last piece, I now look at the life and legacy of Gordon “Butch” Stewart, Jamaican patriot and entrepreneur extraordinaire.

Like most people, I have been impressed by his business acumen and his love for Jamaica. His useful life and contribution to humanity has now ended, symbolised in the solemn and moving farewell that his family gave to him. It must have been very instructive that a life that was so full of energy, utility, and promise, could lie so still in a coffin; that the voice of one that gave so much encouragement to many of his brothers and sisters, especially in the Caribbean, is forever silenced.

But his deeds and legacy will live on largely through the business empire he created. One can be sure that his family will continue to carry the baton which he had started to pass on before he died. It is basic to the stuff of human life that we are here for a time. The best in us urges us to do what we can to leave our own little space a little better than we found it. Some spaces are larger than others; some try, others don't. As the book of the Ecclesiasticus laments, there are those who have no memorial; who perish as if they never have been (Ecclesiasticus 44:9). There are no footprints on the sands of time by which you could even recognise them.

Not so with Butch Stewart. He blazed a trail and is distinguished from many by the number of footprints (or sandal prints) he has left on his journey among us. His businesses, especially his hotel empire, which employs thousands of Caribbean citizens, will forever be a testimony to his hard work and entrepreneurial genius.

In the space that he occupied, Butch Stewart left his mark and he will for a long time be remembered as a Jamaican who was first and foremost a patriot, who loved his country and never abandoned it as he made forays into other lands. It has been said that patriotism is often the refuge of scoundrels, but this could not have been said of Butch. The Butch Stewart Initiative that he pioneered to save the faltering, beleaguered Jamaican dollar is a case in point. He might have had his own self-interest to protect, but no one can gainsay the strength and relevance of his patriotic commitment to ensure a stable enough foreign exchange regime to keep the country's economy afloat.

One of the defining features which any student of business would be well advised to study is the people-centred approach that Stewart adopted. This approach was central to the success of his enterprises. He sought to treat his workers with fairness. I find it instructive that, to the best of my knowledge, there was no active, if any, union presence in any of his business enterprises. This is due in no small measure to the way he treated his workers as being essential to what he was doing. Ultimately, this is the best test of worker interest and productivity. Workers who are happy with how they are being treated are less disposed to ask external entities to haggle on their behalf. Butch understood this and we see the results in his businesses.

My wife and I had a taste of this people-centred approach after Butch had assumed responsibility for the beleaguered Air Jamaica. If you will pardon a personal story. My family went on a vacation and we travelled on Air Jamaica. My son, who was about 10 years old, was so thrilled by the treatment he had received on the plane that on our return to Jamaica he wrote a letter to the editor relating his experience.

Not long after that we were contacted by someone from Air Jamaica that Stewart would like to have the family at an event he was sponsoring to highlight the naming of one of the planes the “Spirit of Mandeville”. He would like our son to be a special guest at the event. We went and what a day it was. Butch took on to the young man as if he were his son. He made a great deal of him and even had him sit in the cockpit of one of the planes. This was a masterstroke for advertisement, but what we saw was a man who was genuinely interested in a young boy and went out of his way to make him comfortable, no doubt in appreciation of something commendable that he had written about one of his companies.

Did Stewart have great faults? I am sure he did, as this too is part of the texture of human existence. Those who were closer to him can attest to this more than anyone else can. But what we came to know of him as a great Jamaican was a source of inspiration to all of us.

This column wishes his family all that is best as they ponder the unavoidable void in their hearts for weeks, months, and even years to come. May his soul rest in peace and may his legacy of hard work continue to inspire us.

A new day in America

Today marks the ascension of Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice-president of the United States of America. These are highest offices in the American Government, and some would argue in the world. The dangerous and meandering roads that led finally to their inauguration must not be lost on the American people.

American democracy and the way of life that has been built around it are under threat as I write. White supremacist and militia groups that have been hibernating in America for a long time have suddenly been given a surge of motivation by the inspiration they have received from the outgoing and disgraced President Donald Trump. He has exploited their worst instincts to the extent that the nation's capital and the seat of the nation's Government and premier institutions, resembles a military camp, akin to what we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bottom-line of all this is that the Biden-Harris Administration has its work cut out for it. The immediate concern must be to deal with the raging pandemic that is killing almost 4,000 people per day, ensuring the security of the nation from home-grown terrorists, and ensuring the economic viability of a nation in which millions of its citizens have slid into poverty since the start of the pandemic.

This column wishes his Administration a safe and productive four years of governance. The spirit of the American people will be severely tested, but there is hope that the legendary resilience that has helped it in he past will also be present in the threats which today face the homeland.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the book WEEP: Why President Donald J. Trump Does Not Deserve A Second Term . Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

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