Whelan’s accomplishments were numerous over his 55-year career. He was a World War II and Korean War veteran, a firefighter, a local union officer, a state union council president and lobbyist, an executive officer of the Multnomah County Labor Council, a state legislator, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, the first executive director of the Oregon Department of Economic Development, a PGE executive, and a small business entrepreneur.
Whelan was born in Portland on Jan. 11, 1926. He grew up in North Portland and graduated from Roosevelt High School. He served in the Army Air Corps and military reserves, where he achieved the rank of major.
He attended the University of Portland before joining the Portland Fire Bureau. He was active in the Fire Fighters Union, serving as secretary of Local 43 and as president of the Oregon State Fire Fighters Council.
He headed the Multnomah County Labor Council from 1957 to 1965. While at the helm of the labor council, he also served in the Oregon Legislature. He was elected as a Democratic state representative in 1958, and served through the 1965 session.
In 1965, at age 39, Whelan succeeded the retiring James T. Marr as executive secretary-treasurer of the Oregon AFL-CIO. The 1967 convention of the state labor federation made the president the organization’s executive officer, and Whelan was elected to the top post.
In that capacity he helped lobby the 1969 Legislature to create TriMet, and he later served on its Board of Commissioners.
Whelan also held stints on the Governor’s Economic Development Council, the Portland Dock Commission, and later the Port of Portland Commission.
In January 1973, Republican Gov. Tom McCall lured Whelan from the labor movement, persuading him to accept an appointment as the first executive director of the Oregon Department of Economic Development. When McCall completed his second term in office, Whelan took a job as an economic development executive for Portland General Electric (PGE). There, he also handled the utility’s governmental affairs assignment. He retired from PGE in 1988.
He and his wife Phyllis moved to Newport, Oregon, where they operated a real estate business, a car wash, and an auto detailing shop. He also served on the city’s Port Commission.
They moved to the King City retirement community near Tigard in 1999. Phyllis died in March of that year, just shy of their 54th wedding anniversary.
Whelan re-married in 2000 to Jeanne (Hanna). She died last November. Whelan also was preceded in death by sons, Tom and Steve. Tom was a Fire Fighter Union official and Oregon legislator. He died in 2013. Steve died in 1997.
Whelan is survived by a daughter, Susan; and granddaughter, Julia.
At Whelan’s request, there will not be a memorial service. Donations in his name can be made to Serenity Hospice.