Chris Llewellyn knows what it’s like to be poor on Bainbridge Island.
“I was a single mother at one point,” she recalls, “and I was so poor that I had to sell my bed to buy a chainsaw to cut firewood to keep the house warm.”
Llewellyn has shared a lot of experiences with a lot of people on the island where she has lived most of her life.
She tells about the neighbor on Fletcher Bay who kept chains on his pickup truck tires all year “because my driveway is muddy.”
She remembers timing swims off the island’s west side to avoid Navy torpedo tests, and she recalls visiting friends by boat long before she was old enough to drive a car.
“You can’t turn back the clock,” the 54-year-old candidate said, “but I’ve grown up with this island, and I think that understanding would make me a good mayor.”
Llewellyn’s grandparents were “summer people” on Bainbridge, with a cabin at the end of Tolo Road.
But even as part-time residents, they were involved in the community. Her grandfather was a lawyer in Seattle, and during World War II, he did the legal work necessary to preserve the property of some of the island’s Japanese-Americans during the internment.
As Chris Burkeimer, she grew up on the island’s west side, and had what she calls an idyllic childhood.
“I remember when I could ride a horse from Tolo Road to Point White through the woods,” she said.
She paid for her first horse by picking strawberries in the Koura fields, what is now Meadowmeer.
“You could stand up there and see mountains on all sides,” she said. “You can’t do that anymore, because the trees have grown so much.”
Her father was a builder, who owned several buildings in downtown Winslow along what is now Madrone Lane between the Blackbird Bakery and City Hall.
One of her father’s more enduring contributions to the island, she said, was building the dunking platform hauled out every Fourth of July.
“I suspect it may have been rebuilt a little since then,” she says, “but it still looks like the one he built and we tested in our yard.”
After graduating from Bainbridge High School in 1965, where she was a class and student-body officer, Llewellyn went to the University of Washington, where she majored in clothing and textiles.
She then undertook what she calls a “see America first” tour, visiting all 50 states, and spent some time teaching skiing in Colorado.
“But when I drove back over the Cascades, I knew that there was no place else I wanted to be but here,” she said.
She took a job as an outerwear designer with a Seattle firm, than abandoned the commute to work as a freelance designer and carpenter. Ultimately, she established an outdoor-wear firm on the island, Custom Sport.
After marrying Jim Llewellyn, she became an active volunteer in the school system, particularly on recreation matters. The Llewellyns ran a ski school at Crystal Mountain for a number of years. They held an annual ski swap, and used the proceeds to subsidize skiing trips for single-parent families.
“It’s such a wonderful family activity,” she said, “and having been a single mom myself, I always felt that if there was any group I particularly wanted to help, it would be single mothers.”
Four years ago, Llewellyn applied her interest in recreational issues and ran successfully for a seat on the park board.
Almost immediately, she was ensnared in a controversy.
The board had offered to give the Humane Society a piece of land at Manzanita Park for an animal shelter. The park was adjacent to the Bainbridge Island Saddle Club, which built and used the park’s trails. And Llewellyn was, or had recently been, on the Saddle Club’s board of directors.
The controversy over the shelter escalated to the point that the park district’s then-director Chuck Field suggested rescinding the offer to the Humane Society. By a 3-2 vote, Llewellyn voting in the majority, the offer was rescinded.
Llewellyn defends her vote, and denies that she had any conflict of interest.
“I did not believe that the park district should be giving away land, even to non-profit groups,” she said this week. “It was not a conflict of interest under the law.”
Former park board member Joanne Croghan, who was on the opposite side of the animal-shelter vote, said that unfortunately, that situation is one that many people will remember.
“Everyone identifies her with that conflict of interest and her apparent inability to understand it,” Croghan said.
But since then, she has become a strong member of the park board, according to her peers.
“As a long-time islander, she was very concerned about development and growth,” said former board member Bob Silver, who called Llewellyn a strong advocate of open-space measures.
“She is a very active member and takes issues seriously,” said Daryl Schei, who has served on the board with Llewellyn for four years. “She is concerned about open space and balancing active and passive recreation needs, and does a good job of looking at all sides of an issue,” he said.
District Director Dave Lewis said Llewellyn’s greatest strength may be the ability to make a decision.
“She takes all input from all sources and develops a plan, but she’s of a mind at some point to say that not every person is going to be satisfied,” he said.
Llewellyn, who is not running for re-election to the park board, said that her bid for the mayor’s office is the ultimate extension of her volunteer activities.
“I found myself working full-time and volunteering full-time,” she said. “I had to make a choice, and the volunteerism is what I am not willing to give up.”