By Seth Daniel
Some say the Mystic/Tobin Bridge is the most important bridge in the Town.
They might be right if they’re talking about a physical structure, but they would be wrong if they’re talking about something or someone that brings people together.
In that sense, towering above the Tobin is the late David Whelan.
This year the Bunker Hill Day Parade and festivities will go off without an important and key voice – one that sought to unite the new people and the old guard in Charlestown, and often successfully pulled that off during the Parade and accompanying festivities.
That man was the late David Whelan, and he will be remembered this year during Charlestown Pride Week and during the Parade with various tributes – most prominently on June 10 in the Navy Yard where a plaque will be dedicated to him on one of the large anchors in the Yard. Whelan passed away after a short illness in December.
“David would always tell us how important it was to bring people together in Charlestown,” said Kim Mahoney, a relative who grew up next door to Whelan. “He believed there was power in numbers. He wanted to be together on issues and united as one front. That was very important to him. He had the gift that it didn’t matter what circle he was in, he was able to bridge the gap and people loved him. If he believed in it, he would be with you 100 percent, especially with the Navy Yard issues.”
Whelan was native to Charlestown and came from a huge Charlestown family, but he worked in the Navy Yard and had long represented the Navy Yard on the Charlestown Neighborhood Council. Having met the people in the Navy Yard and worked with them, it was his intent to get them into the fold.
Lois Siegelman, president of the Friends of the Charlestown Navy Yard, was a close confidant and said Whelan helped her to navigate the new territory up on the Hill.
“Even though I’m much older than Dave was, Dave was my mentor about everything Charlestown,” she said. “He always helped us with who to support and what to support and what ad book we should take out an ad in and where we should buy things for our functions when we could. He was very straightforward. He would go out and get donations for us…It was things like that Dave did to help us make connections…When I first moved here it was us versus them – the Townies and the Toonies. You don’t hear that so much anymore. I think that’s a tribute to Dave and how important it was for him to bridge those two worlds. That’s why we gave his family the Bridge Award in his name this year at our Gala. He bridged Chelsea Street and helped make us one community.”
Bob Kenney, president of Kenney Development in the Navy Yard, said that in the old days, Chelsea Street was a great divider between the Town and the Navy Yard. Though one neighborhood, they didn’t mix, and Kenney said that bothered Whelan.
“We’ve been involved with the Navy Yard since 1984 when we began developing four buildings here,” said Kenney. “In the early days, it was always a literal and figurative wall running down Chelsea Street. David was very instrumental in making sure the residents in the Yard were heard and had a seat at the Neighborhood Council. Now there is a much clearer working relationship between the Neighborhood Council and the interests of the Navy Yard. It’s all one Charlestown as Dave used to say to me. He was one major leader of that change. That took time, but it’s what we’re seeing now in the neighborhood. It’s no longer an us versus them, but a ‘we.’”
Rebecca Kaiser of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital – and now a Charlestown resident – said Whelan was instrumental in making sure Spaulding was brought into the fold – especially at Parade time.
“He was so critical to Spaulding fitting into the Navy Yard and the neighborhood,” she said. “He was certainly the bridge of new and old Charlestown, bringing the Navy Yard into the rest of the community. He was able to have our undivided trust as a developer and he also had that same trust from people who had lived all their lives in Charlestown. He was always thinking about how to make the next connection for us in the community in a very real way. He would tell us that if we were moving to Charlestown, we needed to sponsor the breakfast, be a sponsor of the road race and march in the Parade. There weren’t a lot of questions involved. He knew it was important for us to be visible in that Parade long before we broke ground here in Charlestown.”
Mahoney said Whelan took her aside last year as he planned the Parade and the ad book for the Parade from his hospital bed. Mahoney said he stressed to her that it was extremely important for the family to continue bringing the two communities even closer together.
“He wanted me to meet Lois Siegelman and said what great people they were in the Navy Yard and he wanted them to get more involved,” she said. “He said he wanted to get them more involved with the Parade. He wanted to bring them to the Associates breakfast. He said they had great ideas and he believed that with the Parade we could really unite everyone together.”
This year, that’s just what organizers intend to do, and it will start on Friday, June 10, with the plaque dedication in Whelan’s name – not up on the Hill – but rather in the Navy Yard.
“My family is so grateful for the friendship extended to us,” said Mahoney. “They have gone above and beyond for David in honoring him this year.”