When I spoke with Adam Stewart, executive chairman of Sandals Resorts International, several weeks after the January 2021 death of Butch Stewart, his father and the founder of Sandals, grief was still present in his voice and demeanor.
Gay Nagle Myers covered the Caribbean for Travel Weekly for more than 30 years.
He told me about the outpouring of support and love that he and his family had received from Sandals staff, tourism leaders, government officials, colleagues and friends.
What helped him the most through the hard days and nights in those early times, he said, was the love and support from Jill, his wife and the mother of their three children.
Stewart described Jill as "a rock."
"She was steady, understanding, always there just at the right time with words I needed to hear and her shoulder that I needed to lean on."
Fast-forward to the opening of Sandals Royal Curacao in June 2022, marking the debut of Sandals in the Dutch Caribbean. In a speech to international media during the gala's high-energy celebrations, Stewart extolled the island's rich history and culture and lauded the array of resort amenities and activities.
At the end of the speech, Stewart spoke as a husband and father. Jill had been diagnosed with sarcoma, a form of cancer, two months earlier, he said. He spoke openly about his wife's courage, her valiant fight and her grace.
Adam and Jill Stewart Photo Credit: Sandals Resorts International
I spoke to him privately for a few minutes later. He said he remained optimistic and positive because Jill was, as he described again, "a rock," just as she was following the death of his father.
I gave him a hug and told him that he and Jill were in my prayers.
Adam had chronicled her battle on his social media outlets, a decision that the couple had made together, hoping that Jill's story would serve "to impact others in the pursuit of prevention."
Sadly, on July 14, Adam announced on his social media outlets that Jill, "the love of my life, my best friend of 28 years and mother of our three wonderful children, passed away peacefully and surrounded by love."
This death felt so very personal. Over the years that I covered the Caribbean, Sandals and the Stewarts were front and center in much of my coverage. I got to know them, and Adam would show me the latest photos of his kids when we met in person for interviews and at resort openings and conferences. His dad, Butch, had always kidded me about my earrings.
What I hope is that Adam -- and all of us -- is able to follow his advice, contained in his announcement of Jill's death: "Time with the ones you love is what life is all about. Jill believed this to her core and told us so time and time again."