Whelan’s service, integrity and humor remembered at memorial service

Hundreds came through Boardwalk Hall on Thursday to say goodbye to former Atlantic City mayor and state senator Jim Whelan.
The “shoobie” who became a native son to his adopted hometown left Atlantic City a legacy that will last for generations, said those who spoke at his memorial service.
“He just wanted to help and do the right thing,” Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo said. “The state of New Jersey is a better place because of Jim Whelan.”
From the beach to the classroom to City Hall and finally the statehouse.
“The Whale stood tall in Atlantic City,” said Mayor Don Guardian. “But it had nothing to do with his height but his character.”
There was laughter and some tears as everyone from former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell to high school basketball coach legend Bob Hurley shared their memories of Whelan.
Former Atlantic City Council President Rosalind Norrell-Nance covered the spectrum.
She and Whelan didn’t start out friends. In fact, she remembered a “disastrous” peacemaking meeting between her and then-Mayor Whelan set up by mutual friend Bob Levy.
It ended with Whelan banging his fist on his desk loudly asking how he was going to make it through the next few years with her as council president.
“And I said I was going to go behind that desk and push him and his chair out the window,” she recalled. A second meeting — in public to temper their tempers — the two began to find common ground, and eventually became good friends.
In fact, a kiss Norrell-Nance gave her husband goodbye one day sent a young boy into tears as he accused her of cheating on her “husband,” Mayor Whelan.
Whelan would explain to the boy that It’s a good idea to have a woman as a good friend.
But the love of his life was always his real wife, Kathy, several of the speakers pointed out, addressing her directly.
Former Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts recalled how, when Whelan would say he had to consider an idea, he was really saying, “Let me talk to Kathy and see if she thinks your idea is as crazy as I do.”
Many talked about the additions Whelan brought to Atlantic City. And those that he won’t get to see completed.
His persistence is why the Hard Rock is building in Atlantic City, President and CEO Jim Allen said.
The project is expected to bring more than $500 million and thousands of jobs.
And, he won’t see Stockton University’s Atlantic City Campus completed.
Stockton President Harvey Kesselman recalled standing in the same Boardwalk Hall four months ago for the college’s first graduation from there. He said he didn’t expect goodbye to come so soon.
“Jim wasn’t a politician,” said state Senate President  Steve Sweeney. “He was just a good guy.”
And a good teacher.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner remembered meeting Whelan for the first time in 1977: A student at Uptown Complex meeting his swimming teacher.
Whelan and Tyner’s father, Hank, would work together through their political lives and, eventually, the younger Tyner would take his father’s place at Whelan’s side, going door-to-door to talk to voters.
“To see his true legacy you only need to look at his incomparable dedication to the children of Atlantic City,” said the former student. “He was invested in our success.”