The ‘Raining King’ Is Dead


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I first met him after he’d purchased Cunard hotel at La Toc and reinvented it as Sandals La Toc. I recall the Sunday morning in 1992 when the not nearly ready for prime time resort was launched. Among those gathered on the unsheltered ground floor were Sandals-Jamaica hotshots, local tourism standard bearers, government officials and eager-beaver press representatives.

Left to right: Prime Minister John Compton, tourism minister Romanus Lansiquot (both deceased), ‘raining king’ Butch Stewart, Dr. Vaughan Lewis and then St. Lucia Tourist Board chairman Stephen McNamara.

While some kept on their toes the hotel’s bar personnel and the strategically attired sashaying servers of free champagne and rum and Coke, others including your ever humble reporter sat uncomfortably on metal chairs that may have been borrowed from the Castries City Council.

Chances are no one actually expected the event to kick off as per schedule. This was the Caribbean after all. And typically Caribbean is the tendency to believe our own publicity. If we expected potential visitors to believe the local temperature is always comfortably warm, thanks to our ever-present cool breezes, well, first we had to be self-convinced the seductively enhanced pen portraits in our brochures were nothing but the truth. As for coming and going on schedule, we’d even named a regional airline for the “better late than never” principle.

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Then again reality has a nasty habit of kicking fantasy where the sun don’t shine. On the remembered Sunday the scheduled early afternoon activity was more than an hour late getting started. Even the sun had decided enough was enough and taken refuge behind some suspiciously dark clouds. Suddenly the island’s prime minister was at the mic, sweaty-faced but clearly unfazed by the drizzle. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I’m happy to tell you our host is here. I give you the raining king.” Blame it on the rum and Cokes if you wish, still chances are few in Compton’s audience caught his little double entendre. In all events before long there’d be no disputing Butch Stewart was indeed the reigning king of Caribbean hoteliers—with three resorts in Saint Lucia alone!

Depending on who you ask, he was generous, a dedicated promoter of all things Caribbean, a manipulator of the region’s ever handicapped politicians. Or he was the hardest of taskmasters, paid top salaries but always expected value for money. He was regularly in the headlines, more often than not for his gone-bad relationships with the region’s leaders. It’s no secret that a political love affair had delivered to Stewart “the hotel formerly known as Hyatt,” or that he was blamed for Kenny Anthony’s election loss in 2006. His relationship with Allen Chastanet, which predates the latter’s entry into politics, is cited with often contradictory speculations.

The hotel king’s reign ended earlier this month when he passed away at a hospital in COVID-ridden Texas, on the brink of 80. His family has not revealed the cause of death.

I will miss Butch Stewart, despite that we had our quarrels, usually rooted in my decision to oppose or not to oppose local policy makers. However, there never was a time when I could not access him for an insider’s perspective of something tourism-related. He was a big fan of the STAR from inception, and permitted me free use of articles featured in his own newspaper the Jamaica Observer.

In particular, I will remember Butch Stewart for something he told me not long after Sandals La Toc opened for business: “Unless your country provides most of the food and drink your tourists consume you’re not yet in the business of tourism.” He made certain I caught his emphasis on the word business!

This article first appeared in the January 2021 edition of the STAR Monthly Review. Be sure to get your printed copy on newsstands or view it here: https://issuu.com/starbusinessweek/docs/star_monthly_review_january_2021

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