The late Gordon “Butch” Stewart has been described by many as an astute businessman, hotel mogul and marketing genius, but to Colin Mills, he was simply a friend.
The owner of the Double V Multi-Purpose Complex in Pineapple, Ocho Rios, who shared a 67-year friendship with the Sandals Resorts International founder and former chairman, says he continues to have a difficult time coming to terms with Mr. Stewart’s passing.
“This is a man who assisted me when I was about to lose my business here at Double V to creditors,” Mr. Mills tells JIS News during an interview at his business complex on Saturday (January 9).
“This is a man who paid the tuition fee for my daughter, who is now a lawyer, to finish college in the United States. Without Butch Stewart I would no longer have Double V. Without my friend, Butch Stewart, I don’t know where I would be in life,” he says.
Mr. Mills tells JIS News that when he first heard that Mr. Stewart had passed, it was one of those surreal moments where he simply went back to bed, hoping that it was “just a bad dream”.
He said it was only when he got out of bed the next morning and saw his wife, Valerie, sitting on the porch “crying her heart out” that it dawned on him that his lifelong friend was, indeed, gone.
“I have known Butch Stewart since he was 11 and I was six years old,” Mr. Mills says, recalling that the man, who would serve as the best man at his wedding, used to live in close proximity to what later became Double V and where “my mother worked with his mother for nine and a half years”.
He tells JIS News that Mr. Stewart showed that he had that “special business touch” from very early.
“I remember when he turned 12 and I was seven. He used to go and shoot fish and I would go down to Silver Seas [Ocho Rios] and sell [them] for him. Whatever don’t sell he would let me have it, but not before telling me that I should make sure the fish them sell. Yes, I was the fish vendor and he was the fisherman,” he notes.
Mr. Mills also recalls an occasion “when Butch was coming down from his home with a bicycle. At the time, he was the only one in Pineapple with a bicycle, and he ran into a guy (Dee Dixon) who had a goat that he (Butch) wanted to buy”.
“The guy said ‘no, I won’t sell it to you, but I will swap you the goat for the bicycle’. Butch gave him the bicycle and the guy Dixon gave him the goat. Three weeks later the goat had two kids, putting Butch on the business map. Yes, Butch became a businessman when he was 12 years old… by shooting fish and having me as his vendor and by trading for the goat that would give him other goats.”
Mr. Mills says that those were the kind of deals that would propel Mr. Stewart into becoming one of the most astute businessmen of his generation.
“Butch knew that if he had a goat or a fowl, then you can make a profit. He knew that he could make a profit from the goat – something that the bicycle could not do for him. Back in those days there was no money to be made off a bicycle or a motor vehicle and Butch knew how to invest. Just like land. He and I had that philosophy that land will not meet in an accident, so you just buy it and watch the value grow,” he notes.
Mr. Mills tells JIS News that Mr. Stewart’s grandmother, Ethel Stewart, who died in 1955 at age 84, had a profound impact on the business icon’s life.
“Ms. Ethel picked up early that Butch was dynamic and had the business mind. I was there when she told my mother that,” he says.
“She also said the same thing in the Roman Catholic Church in St. Ann’s Bay (the school Mr. Stewart attended at an early age) that he would one day have the entire Caribbean in his hand middle,” he relates.
The Double V boss says that Mr. Stewart was “kind to a fault” and found it difficult to say no, especially to a friend.
“If you are his friend and he can’t help you right away, it would bother him. He wouldn’t stop until he could help you. He would never make a promise to you that he would not keep,” Mr. Mills notes.
For her part, Valerie Mills tells JIS News that she will never forget the day when the creditors gave her and her husband a couple of weeks to exit the Double V property and “all seemed lost”.
She says that unbeknownst to her husband, she had made a call to Mr. Stewart to tell him about their plight.
“He simply told me to remain calm, always assuring me that he would deal with the matter,” she notes.
“Within days he had the matter settled and our business was saved. He is the kindest and greatest man that that I have known, other than my husband. He would later pay the final years of our daughter’s college tuition in the United States, calling her accomplishment as a lawyer as one of the greatest investments he has ever made,” Mrs. Mills tells JIS News.