HAT ISLAND — After Ray Stephanson retired as Everett’s longest-serving mayor in 2017, he didn’t have any intention of coming back to government.
But just a few years after moving to Hat Island full time, he was asked to serve on the board of the island’s Community Association. Shortly after, he was appointed to its fire commission.
This month, he ran unopposed to retain his position with the fire department, earning a two-year term. It was a landslide: 52 Hat Islanders voted for him, against three write-ins.
You could say it’s a capstone to his career.
Toward the end of his career as mayor on the mainland, Stephanson was used to winning races by a safe cushion. In 2009, he defeated Jim Johnson with 73.4% of the vote. Running unopposed for his last term in 2013, scoring 96% of the 15,507 votes.
The island is tight-knit. Almost everyone knows one another, Stephanson said. It sits about 4 miles west of the Everett and slightly closer to Whidbey and Camano islands. Just 260 families live on the island, many only staying seasonally.
Stephanson, a former telecommunications executive, has owned a home on the island since 2004. In 2016, he and his family sold their mainland home and bought a yacht they kept at the island’s marina.
Now, he is vice president of the community association.
The land mass is also known as Gedney Island. It is named for Lt. Thomas R. Gedney, a friend of Captain Charles Wilkes, who charted the island in 1841.
But the Hat Islandname stuck when people compared the profile of the island to a hat, according to a “Hat Island History” document on the community association’s website.
The fire department, known as Snohomish County Fire District 27, is all volunteers. A three-person commission works with John Gray, the island’s fire chief.
“I’m very happy to do everything I can as a volunteer to help my community,” Stephanson said.
Calls to 911 are somewhat rare, but when they happen, they’re especially tricky. Given the island’s isolation, Stephanson said, residents must be ready for evacuation.
The marina on the island holds more than 100 private vessels. One ferry runs eight round trips to Everett per week, though passengers need to be residents or invitees. Stephanson said many islanders subscribe to Airlift Northwest, ensuring a helicopter can transport them off the island to a hospital in case of a medical emergency.
The biggest worry on the island is fire, Stephanson said. Back in 1949, a fire swept through the island, burning vegetation and several homes to the ground.
“We are very protective of the environment,” he said. “We are very strict about not allowing beach fires because it’s just way too dangerous.”
Stephanson has found his experience to be a helpful perspective from his new vantage point in Puget Sound.
“In my whole career I’ve done a lot of volunteering,” he said. “It’s just so important to me to give back to my community.”