Mike Whalen spent a lifetime as Mesa’s loyal public servant, his career spanning four decades as a police officer and assistant chief, and as a volunteer with the Mesa Hohokams, Community Bridges, a New Leaf and the Visit Mesa boards of directors.
In each of his missions, it was Mr. Whalen’s passion for helping others that set him apart, using his skills in dealing with other people to make them feel comfortable around him.
Mr. Whalen’s life of service, which began with serving his country in the Vietnam War, ended May 29 when he succumbed to a brain tumor. He was 70.
“He was a person, if you were in trouble, you could call him and you could trust him,’’ said Claudia Walters, who served with Mr. Whalen for eight years on the Mesa City Council.
“The things that happened to him in his life made him want to make it easier for other people,’’ Walters said.
Former Mesa city councilman Dennis Kavanaugh praised Mr. Whalen as a tireless advocate for Mesa, especially for the tourism and convention industry.
Kavanaugh said that Visit Mesa established the Spirit of Mike Whalen Award and made him the first honoree in March, realizing that Mr. Whalen was terminally ill and probably didn’t have much more time left.
“He was never out for glory. He was out to get the job done. He never wanted things about him,’’ Kavanaugh said.
The Chicago Cubs also honored Mr. Whalen, a lifelong Cubs fan who was the catcher on the Westwood High School baseball team, before a Cactus League game this spring.
Mr. Whalen received a Cubs jersey, which he wore while sitting in a wheelchair because of his illness. Mr. Whalen’s youngest daughter, Grace, 14, a catcher on her school’s softball team, threw out the first pitch.
It was a fitting honor for Mr. Whalen, who spent years working at Hohokam Stadium and at Sloan Park as a Mesa Hohokam. The organization sponsors the Cubs every spring in Mesa, raising money for charity by parking cars, serving as ushers and performing other game day duties.
“It was a special moment for Mike,’’ said Tim Baughman, president of the Hohokams. “We knew he was sick. We knew his life would not be long. They came up with an idea to honor Mike in a special way.’’
Baughman said Mr. Whalen played an important role introducing Tom Ricketts, who was the new Cubs owner at the time, to the community organization, and also served as the Hohokams’ ambassador to the Oakland Athletics when they replaced the Cubs at Hohokam Stadium.
“He was our leader at the time. The new Cubs regime didn’t know what a Hohokam was,’’ Baughman said. “I will remember Mike Whalen as a tireless worker to improve the community of Mesa.’’
His widow Kelly Whalen said her late husband never sought accolades, preferring to work behind the scenes to help others.
Mr. Whalen often would describe himself as “a great number two guy’’ because of his focus on finding solutions.
She said her husband would never accept no as an answer and would delight in finding different ways to solve problems.
“He would never give up. He was cheerfully relentless,’’ she said.
When Mr. Whalen was selected as Mesa’s Man of the Year in 2016, Kelly Whalen said she noticed a pattern to the organizations where her husband volunteered, sometimes serving on several boards of directors at the same time.
“If you look at the causes that Mike was passionate about, you see they were helping people struggling with issues,’’ Kelly Whalen said. “His passion was making sure every person had a second chance.’’
She said one reason people felt comfortable around her husband, beyond his easygoing manner, was that they realized he was genuine.
“There wasn’t more than one Mike Whalen. There wasn’t a Mike Whalen for show,’’ Kelly said.
Former Mesa City Manager Mike Hutchinson said Mr. Whalen always kept a positive attitude, even during the most troubled times.
“He liked being in the mix and fixing stuff. As an assistant police chief, he solved a lot of problems,’’ Hutchinson said. “He tried to make stuff better.’’
Mr. Whalen served with the Mesa police from 1971 until his retirement in 1999. He also served on the city council from 2000 to 2008, during which time he served on the public safety committee.
“We are saddened to hear of the passing of our dear friend and former colleague, Mike Whalen,’’ Mesa Mayor John Giles said in a statement that recognized his community service.
“We send our heartfelt condolences to his family and those who knew him,” Giles said. “His smile, humor and genuine concern for those he served will be truly missed.’’
Kelly said that her husband’s funeral will be at Mesa’s Christ the King Church, but that a date has not been determined yet and arrangements are incomplete.
He is survived by five children: Grace, Jack, Kelley, Katie and Jessica; and three grandchildren. He also is survived by his sister, Janet DiJulio of Palo Alto, California.
The family suggests donations to A New Leaf in lieu of flowers.