Star Island incoming Chief Executive Officer Joe Watts, speaks during a press conference aboard the M/V Thomas Laighton at the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company to talk about its upcoming season and Third Annnual Gosport Regatta fundraiser in support of its sustainablility program on Wednesday in Portsmouth. Seated at left is Jack Farrell, Star Island Facilities Superintendent.
April 26, 2012 2:00 AM

PORTSMOUTH — A veteran employee of Star Island Corp. who has held just about every job available on the island and off has been tapped to be its next chief executive officer.

Joe Watts, current general island manager, was named by the Star Island Corp. board of trustees to succeed Victoria Hardy, who is retiring at the end of the year. The announcement was made Wednesday aboard the M/V Thomas Laighton, owned by the Isles of Shoals Steamship Co., which makes regular stops at Star Island during the summer months.

Star Island Corp. owns and maintains Star Island off the coast of Portsmouth. On the island is the Oceanic House hotel and a number of cottages and guest houses. Weekly conferences and retreats, some affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist and congregational churches and some not, take place throughout the summer.

Hardy, who has been chief executive officer since 2007, is retiring to spend more time with her family in Washington state.

“Since Vicky announced her plans to retire, the board gave much thought as to how to approach the search for a new CEO,” said board President Russell Peterson, a financial planner from York, Maine.

He said, before the board committed to a national search, “We knew that we had a qualified internal candidate in Joe. We had a long discussion with him” at the board meeting in Boston last month.

“Joe has done an impeccable job as island manager,” Peterson said. “It’s in the best shape it’s been in for a long time. He is mature, and he’s ready for the seriousness of the job.”

For Watts, 41, it’s the ultimate job in a long succession of work he’s done at Star Island, going back to his college years. Actually, he started coming to Star Island as a youngster, he said. In college, he was a “pelican,” the affectionate name given to the young people who do everything from waiting on tables to cooking food to helping with the many island chores.

He was hired as assistant island engineer in 1998, and that began a series of jobs with Star Island Corp., including facilities manager, volunteer coordinator and publications coordinator. As general manager, he’s in charge of all aspects of running the island from early June to late September, when it’s open.

His new job will be to guide the facility into the future, “to preserve the traditions of Star Island while on the other hand introduce change in exciting ways.”

The board has committed, for instance, to make the island as self-sustaining as possible and has instituted the Green Gosport Initiative, named for the town that once existed on the island. Its goal is to reduce the island’s use of fossil fuels as much as possible. The board hired the Island Institute in Rockland, Maine, to study the feasibility of installing a solar array that could meet the island’s power needs.

Watts said it’s exciting to be part of that initiative, as well as to find new, varied and interesting programming that is affordable and family friendly.

“I love Star Island — both the place and the people. I’m dedicated to Star, and I’m ready for the challenge,” he said.

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