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Town loses one of its finest

Devastated friends and students descended upon Woodward’s Tae Kwon Do late Thursday afternoon to remember a friend who died the day before.

They were some of the countless island residents, including children and teenagers, reeling from the sudden death of Coupeville Deputy Marshal William “Billy Ray” Hibbs on Wednesday afternoon. He was 37.

More than a Deputy Marshal, Hibbs was popular with the students at Coupeville Middle School and High School and a well-known and beloved tae kwon do instructor in Oak Harbor.

More than 60 teary-eyed people crammed into the Midway Avenue academy to reminisce about Hibbs.

“He was incredibly strong but has a soft side that inspired us around here,” said owner Greg Woodward, adding students knew Hibbs as a patient instructor who used his sense of humor as an effective teaching tool.

He taught at Woodward’s for several years and several of his students were on hand to pay their respects.

“I think Mr. Hibbs was a great instructor,” said nine-year-old Dakota Sinchak. “He was funny and he had a great sense of humor and he taught us real well.”

Others echoed Sinchak’s sentiments.

“I think the hardest part for everybody was that he was so well loved,” said Joel Walker, who has been taking classes at Woodward’s for three years.

On Wednesday afternoon, Hibbs went jogging to warm up for a class he was teaching later in the day. He collapsed while running on Whidbey Avenue.

EMT’s and paramedics responded within two minutes of the 911 call. Rescue workers performed CPR for 45 minutes until they were able to transport Hibbs to Whidbey General Hospital. Unfortunately, he died shortly thereafter.

Hibbs suffered a heart attack stemming from an enlarged heart, said Island County Coroner Robert Bishop.

“It hit us pretty hard,” said Coupeville Marshall Lenny Marlborough of Hibbs’s death.

As a deputy marshal, Hibbs was a community leader who was popular with teenagers in Coupeville.

“I’m guessing that he’s touched the lives of three quarters of the kids,” said Phyllis Textor, principal at Coupeville Middle and High School.

Hibbs was a fixture during lunch time at the school and would often hang out with students.

“Billy was a big kid himself,” said his wife Jeanine.

In addition to the regular visits to the high school, he taught bicycle safety classes at the elementary school and chaperoned seventh graders on overnight boat trips where students learned state history, science and life skills.

“He was a gem and a good person. We’re in shock,” Textor said. “He’s what you want in a small-town policeman.”

Teachers spent Thursday morning informing students about Hibbs’ death and students talked about the loss during an advocacy period later in the day, Textor said.

His ability to relate with the youth in the area was one of Hibbs’ strengths, Marshal Marlborough said.

“Those kids would do anything for Billy Ray,” Marlborough said. “He wasn’t looking to bust the kids, he was looking to help them out.”

Hibbs started working at the Coupeville Marshal’s Office in 1997 after a 10-year stint in the Navy. He started as a reserve deputy and then, in August of that year, he started working full time as a deputy.

Marlborough said the community knew of his pleasant demeanor and ability to deal with everyone from children to criminals.

Hibbs resided in Coupeville resident and is survived by his wife Jeanine and children Justin, 6, Nicole, 2, and Tyler, 18.

“He was a wonderful father,” said Jeanine, adding that he would often do Nicole’s hair and wrestle with Justin. He was also helping Justin grow a bean plant for a science project.

She said law enforcement was her husband’s true calling and he strived to treat everybody with respect.

“He just loved to help people. He had a very easy-going, relaxed style,” Jeanine said.

She added that Billy Ray had long been interested in the martial arts. He studied tae kwon do for seven years at Woodwards and was a second-degree black belt. Starting at a white belt, Hibbs became an instructor at Woodwards several years ago, happy to teach others what he had learned.

A funeral service for Hibbs is scheduled Monday, Feb. 7, 3 p.m. at the Coupeville High School Gymnasium. An obituary can be found on page 8 of today’s Whidbey News-Times.

--- Staff Reporter Jesse Stensland contributed to this story.

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