He was born at the end of World War II clear across the country in Maine, where his father was an Army Air Corps lieutenant in charge of a radio detachment at Dow Field, now part of the Bangor International Airport.
After a stint in his parents’ Iowa hometown of Dubuque, he grew up the oldest of five children in the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance, only moving north in 1976.
Still, Pat McClain belongs to Everett.
“He is really Everett, through and through,” Mayor Ray Stephanson said.
McClain, 71, is this year’s winner of the Henry M. Jackson Award, named for the late longtime U.S. Senator from Everett and given to a person who’s shown outstanding community service and a strong commitment to the region’s business interests.
It’s a fitting award for McClain, who retired last year as Everett’s executive director of governmental affairs and had his hand in a string of projects over the years benefiting Everett and the broader community, including Naval Station Everett, Washington State University North Puget Sound at Everett and the Everett AquaSox.
McClain’s “sort of an unsung hero,” Stephanson said. “He just quietly went about making things happen, getting things done.”
Whatever the project, you could count on McClain, he — and others — said.
“If Pat said he was going to do something, you could take it to the bank and cash a check,” said Bob Drewel, senior adviser to Washington State University President Kirk Schulz.
A former Snohomish County executive and Everett Community College president, Drewel said he’s known McClain nearly 40 years and admires the man’s principles and ethics.
He described McClain as “remarkably resilient,” very well-known in Olympia and always looking out for Everett’s interests, as did “Scoop” Jackson, the award’s namesake.
“He’s a pleasure to work with and an even greater pleasure to call a friend,” Drewel said.
Doug Levy, the city’s lobbyist for many years, said he first met McClain in 1994, while McClain was working in community relations for Everett Community College. Levy took over as government affairs director for then-Mayor Ed Hansen.
That first meeting did not go well. New to the city, Levy said he faced “a steep learning curve” and McClain questioned whether he was up to the job. McClain later apologized, Levy said, and he admired McClain all the more for that.
McClain had a hand in Everett’s big “legacy” projects over the years, Levy said, but there were also a lot of smaller projects “that add up to big things,” such as transportation improvements.
“He’s just one of those glue guys, I think, for the Everett community,” he said.
McClain himself credits his successful career to “visionary” leaders, including the late Elson Floyd, the WSU president who helped bring a four-year university to Everett.
“I was fortunate to work for a couple of mayors who were like that,” he said. “Bill Moore in the ‘80s and Ray Stephanson in the 2000s, who would move forward and put people, time, money and talent and political capital into an idea because they believed in it.”
It was Moore who, in the 1980s, literally laid the foundation that would allow Everett to become what it is today, instigating a plan to repair the city’s aging water and sewer system.
“Moore recognized the fact that our infrastructure was so deteriorated that we’re not going to attract anything until we address it,” McClain said. “And right after that happened all of a sudden we became a quality candidate for a Navy base.”
And it was under the leadership of Stephanson, Everett’s longest-serving mayor, that the city was finally able to bring a four-year university to town.
That was the culmination of a decades-long crusade that included studies funded in the ‘90s by a triumvirate that McClain said has worked well over the years: the city, the port and the business community.
“To me, it is bridging,” he said of his role, and that of others working to improve Everett. “It’s having partners throughout the community, having trust in one another. None of this is one-person, two-person. In the political arenas in particular.”
Hundreds of people worked in the city’s campaign to secure and keep a Navy base in Everett, as well as in the continual campaign for Boeing, McClain said. People “you never saw before” came out to improve a field for a minor-league baseball team that would become the Everett AquaSox.
Many people including McClain had wrenches in their hands and volunteer “electrical workers were up on huge ladders putting in the field lights,” he said. “It was a barn-raising.”
That community spirit came out again to help move the Weyerhaeuser Building, after the company left town in the ‘90s and McClain, who’d worked briefly for Weyerhaeuser in public relations, asked if they’d give the iconic building to the community for $1.
“It was built in 1921 as a demonstration of wood,” he said. “In 1921. So it’s very scalloped, it’s high-peaked, very ornate. It looks like a Christmas house.”
Maritime contractors on the waterfront helped raise the money to move it to 18th and Marine View Drive.
The Chamber of Commerce occupied it for a time, but then it sat vacant for years, until the port fit it into its latest development plan.
“And I was there last summer when they put it on rollers and took it down to Waterfront Park now,” McClain said. “But I was looking at it and saying, it’s interesting, you see the results of your decision that you made 20 years ago.
“But that’s another grand example of Everett stepping up.”
When McClain arrived in Everett in 1976, newly married and hired by the chamber to help it get out of debt and build its membership, the city was a mill town that was losing its mills. The population was 52,001 and it stayed that way for about 10 years, he said.
McClain worked to change that.
“I can remember,” McClain said, “I went to my board and I said, ‘You know, in the last year you’ve lost 35 business and civic leaders.’ And they said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Death, retirement, transfer and relocation.’ And I counted their wives. We lost 35.”
He’d also noticed it was taking newcomers quite a while to get mainstreamed, McClain said. The chamber took it upon itself to create orientation classes that grew into a separate entity now known as Leadership Snohomish County.
And when the chamber lent its support to a ballot measure to switch from a three-commissioner form of county government to the five-member county council it is today, a Herald editorial gave the chamber credit for its passage, McClain said.
“I took an organization that was $30,000 in debt and viewed as a civic club,” he said, “and within a couple of years we were one of the community entities that were given credit for the change in county government.”
It’s the city’s willingness to pitch in that has helped Everett grow, he said.
Today the population has doubled and the area continues to improve, with renowned hospitals like Providence and Children’s and now a new medical school planned by WSU, as well as a host of businesses and amenities that make Everett more diverse and attractive to families.
“You’ve got an arena, you’ve got a hockey team,” McClain said. “None of that was here in 1976. And the baseball team. The whole concept of tourism didn’t exist in 1976.
“And I’m a Californian standing on a corner of my office looking to the west at the Sound and mountains, and looking to the east at the valley and mountains, going, why not?”
It’s an attitude that McClain used has he attempted to served the city and some of those projects that bear McClain’s touch continue to serve the region’s residents.
Not only Everett projects, but regional improvements like the Tulalip water pipeline, dedicated a month ago, built to bring the tribes a secure source of water for the next hundred years.
And the light-rail system that McClain and others convinced Sound Transit to route over to Boeing, before cutting back through Everett and on up I-5.
But the projects McClain said he’s most proud of are the Navy base and the university, which he hopes will be “integral parts of the community” for a long time to come.
Bringing WSU to Everett was his “one last mountain to climb” before retirement, he said, and “what brought tears to my eyes was last year’s graduation.
“And you realize that’s 15 years of pushing that rock up the hill and then you see that — and that got me.”
Reflecting on the many projects he’s worked on, McClain said it’s the tenacity of the people of Everett that made them possible.
“In Everett, we can do big things well,” he said. ”And we did. And the most important word of all that is ‘we’.”