Mathew J. Whelan Jr., 67, Navy captain, cryptologist

April 03, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Mathew J. Whelan Jr., a retired Navy captain who studied Soviet submarine and ship operations and later headed security operations for a defense contractor, died Sunday of pancreatic cancer at his Columbia home. He was 67.

A cryptologist who analyzed Cold War military affairs, he was executive assistant to Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, the National Security Agency director, in the 1970s. He also headed the Navy security base at Winter Harbor, Maine, a facility in Acadia National Park, and was security director for Westinghouse, later Northrop Grumman, in Annapolis and Linthicum.

"He had an illustrious naval career," said Theodore A. Neely, a co-worker and friend who lives in Alexandria, Va. "Even though he retired 18 years ago, his contributions to naval intelligence and systems are being felt today."

Born in Dorchester, Mass., he spent his summers lobstering in waters off Port Maitland, Nova Scotia, where his ancestors lived. He earned a degree at Harvard University in 1956 and earned master's degrees in Russian studies from Georgetown University and in administration from George Washington University.

He joined the Navy the day after he received his college diploma and became a pilot. He once crashed a cargo plane in Newfoundland, and all four crew members walked away from the wreck unharmed. He also tested aircraft at Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River.

Trained to speak and read Russian, he was posted to naval security operations in Turkey. Family members said that at the time he told them he was flying cargo planes to Austria, but was on secret surveillance flights over the Black Sea, Eastern bloc countries and the USSR.

"He read Pravda the way other people read a morning newspaper," said his son, Mathew J. Whelan III of Elkridge. "As a child I'd come down in the morning, [and] he'd be reading the Russian paper."

In January 1968, he was ordered to the Gulf of Tonkin and flew intelligence missions over Vietnam from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk.

In 1970, after moving to Columbia, he was placed on the staff of the director of naval intelligence at the Pentagon. Several years later he was named executive assistant to the director of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade.

He retired from the Navy in July 1984 and became director of security for Westinghouse, later Northrop Grumman, from which he retired in 1998.

He then volunteered at Waterloo, Deep Run and Talbott Springs elementary schools in Howard County. The Talbott Springs PTA named him its Volunteer of the Year 2000 for his work with a reading program. He also taught himself Spanish so he could communicate with children learning English as a second language.

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a little more than two years ago, he became a cancer awareness advocate. He ran a St. Patrick's Day 5K race on Charles Street in Baltimore and raised more than $9,000 for pancreatic cancer research at Johns Hopkins' Kimmel Cancer Center.

He received many awards and decorations, among them the Meritorious Service Medal and the Joint Service Commendation Medal.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church, 5976 Old Washington Road, Elkridge.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife of 42 years, the former Barbara Moran; three daughters, Lianne LeClair of Elkridge, Cheryl Panek of Crofton and Deborah Valenza of Columbia; and 13 grandchildren.

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