Stephen John Hay, businessman, banker, and city mayor, was born on October 5, 1864, in Griffin, Georgia, to Stephen J. and Mary Eliza (Dobbs) Hay. Six months later his father died, and Hay grew up working on a farm and getting his schooling through the public school and his mother's tutoring. His first job was selling papers, but as a young man he went to Atlanta, worked at the John Keely Company (a department store), and took business courses in night school. He worked in Denison, Texas, for a year with the Riley Company, then moved to Dallas in 1887 and worked two years as a bookkeeper. In 1889 he became secretary and treasurer of the Texas Paper Company, a position he maintained for almost twenty years. Later he became president of Dallas Trust and Savings Bank and vice president of Title and Guaranty Company and U.S. Bond and Mortgage Company. He was also a director of Union Bank and Trust Company and Southwestern Life Insurance Company. He married Mrs. Mary N. Oxford on March 15, 1893, in Dallas; they had three children, one of whom, Stephen Jay Hay, became an influential Dallas politician.
Hay was elected to the school board in 1899 and served there six years, two years as president. He was the Democratic choice of the Citizen's Association for the mayoral race in 1907 and became the first mayor under the commission form of city government in Dallas, a cause for which he worked hard. As mayor he addressed the city water-supply problem by initiating the White Rock Reservoir plan. He served two terms in office (through 1911) and was also president of the board of park commissioners and a member of the city health board. He was one of the founders of Trinity Methodist Church, where he preached lay sermons. He served two years as president of the church board of stewards and was an officer in the Sunday school. Hay died of meningitis at his home in Dallas on February 29, 1916.