By David Madden

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (CBS) — More than 2,000 people turned out for a memorial service in honor of State Senator and former Atlantic City Mayor Jim Whelan at Boardwalk Hall.

whalen memorial service

Credit: David Madden

The rich and powerful rubbed shoulders with common folk, all with Whelan stories to tell. After all, he wasn’t just a politician. He was a teacher, a lifeguard and someone who went out of his way to show he cared.

Senate President Steve Sweeney brought up one way to honor his long time friend.

“Ray Lesniak called me up and he said ‘Hey. I got a great idea.’ I said ‘What’s that’ He said, ‘Let’s name Boardwalk Hall after Jim Whelan.’ And you know I couldn’t think of a better honor. The only problem is we’re gonna have to figure if it’s gonna be Mayor or Senator,” said Sweeney.

whalen memorial service

Credit: David Madden

That call will be made by the family. But it’s clear Whelan’s legacy will go far beyond bricks and mortar for the countless number of people whose lives he touched.

Current Mayor Don Guardian figured Whelan spent about 593,592 hours on this planet. And he did a lot.

Aside from the political achievements, he saved 1,000 people as a 19-year-long lifeguard. He was revered as a teacher, confidant and friend. Guardian referred to him by a local nickname.

“Lots of elected officials are politicians, but few are statesmen. The Whale was a statesman,” he said.

Thirteen people spoke at the 90 minute service. Among them, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, former New Jersey Governor Jim Florio, former Congressman William Hughes, Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen, Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman and Saint Anthony High School Coach Bob Hurley.