Sen. Jim Whelan died on Tuesday at the age of 68.
The veteran democratic lawmaker was first elected to New Jersey Assembly in 2005 and went on to the State Senate in 2008.
Prior to his time in the legislature, Whelan served as mayor of Atlantic City for two terms, from 1990 to 2001. He was also a city councilman and taught in the Atlantic City’s public school system for more than 20 years.
“I will always appreciate Jim’s guidance when I first became Mayor and showing me the ropes my first few months. He took me under his wing like a big brother,” Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian said in a statement.
Whelan died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Atlantic City on Tuesday. In early July, he underwent surgery to remove cancerous cells from his kidney. While the surgery was successful, Whelan had been in and out of the hospital in recent weeks, according to his office.
Whelan was born in Philadelphia in 1948. He attended Temple University, where he became a nationally ranked distance swimmer. In 1995, Whelan was inducted into the Temple University Hall of Fame.
After graduating college, Whelan began teaching swimming at an Atlantic City elementary school and spent summers there working as a lifeguard.
As a teacher and councilman and later as mayor and state legislator, Whelan became a fierce advocate for his adopted home of Atlantic City.
Gov. Christie called Whelan’s death “an enormous loss to the people of Atlantic City, his district and all of the state of New Jersey.”
“During my eight years in Trenton, I came to know Jim as a forthright and honest leader whose word was his bond. While we did not always agree on policy, he was always willing to listen and reason together. The current comeback of Atlantic City is due in no small part to the efforts and passion of Jim Whelan,” said Gov. Christie in a statement.
Whelan announced earlier this year he would not seek a fourth term in the Senate; he was set to retire in January after his third term ended.
Whelan is survived by his wife Kathy and son Richard.