Saturday, March 23, 2013

Nedly: A Fond Farewell

Ned Whelan (right), with Michael D. Roberts
Edward P. “Ned” Whelan, Cleveland Magazine’s leading writer of the 1970s and 1980s, died Wednesday night of injuries sustained in a fall at his daughter’s home in Arizona. Today we’re publishing a tribute to Whelan by Gary Diedrichs, his former co-worker at Cleveland Magazine and The Plain Dealer.

We have also added Michael D. Roberts’ 1987 tribute to Whelan, “Arrest That Man, He Stole My Watch!” to our online archive. For more thoughts on Whelan, please see our Thursday post and links to his work, Roldo Bartimole’s remembrance (“Ned Whelan: He Could Tell the Truth”) and obituaries from The Plain Dealer and Crain’s Cleveland Business.

I am tempted to speculate that gangsters Shondor Birns and Danny Greene or other infamous subjects of Ned Whelan’s reportage missed his company so much, missed their game of cat and mouse, predator and prey, and saw their chance to nudge him down those dark stairs in Arizona. Then for old time’s sake he could join them at the Theatrical Grill in the Sky.

Even people who knew they shouldn’t, liked this guy. Loved him even.

Me, too. I recall that day I was feeling silly and ignored in my three-piece suit, in the middle of the Plain Dealer City Room. No cubicles then, no soft whir of computer fans: manual Underwoods clack-clacking all around me, a sea of desks, the occasional shout of “Boy!” to signal that a page was ready to be run to the hub of editors. It was near 7 p.m., lunch time for my shift on my first day as a reporter at Ohio’s largest metropolitan daily.

“Hi,” said Edward J. “Ned” Whelan, sticking out a hand. I knew who he was. Big-time City Hall reporter, scourge of the Carl B. Stokes administration. “Wanna get lunch?”

At Cleveland Magazine, where I joined him in 1974, we all called him Nedly. Now that he’s gone, people say he was the best reporter on two feet—and they’re right. When he had his story, he would walk by with a cat-like swagger, eyes twinkling, a Mona Lisa smile—then disappear into his cramped office (we all had cramped offices) and begin furiously two-finger typing on newsprint copy paper. Every once in a while, he’d let out a whoop. Occasionally, he’d emerge with that same smile on his face to hitch up his trousers and shove his unruly white shirt and the tip of his rep tie under his belt.

He loved to joke about the East Side/West Side divide and Cleveland’s ethnic goulash. He loved to tease. Sometimes he’d try to get a rise out of Diana Tittle, my fellow associate editor. I remember one time he made a crack about her love life. He got quiet and maybe even blushed a little when she shot back, “And, yeah, Nedly, I bet you’re the kind of married guy who only does it on Saturdays.”

If so, that was because he wasn’t around home much during the week. After work, we all hung out and we drank. I don’t mean to romanticize, because later in life Ned stopped drinking for good, but there were so many nights when we trolled the bars of downtown, looking to meet people who could tell us things. Ned knew so many more people than I did, and he could charm them better, too. We went our separate ways only to spot each other across the bar at the Theatrical close to closing. I’d go over to where he was, and he’d introduce me to the prosecutor, the detective, the indicted. We’d all laugh and joke around and set another warm contact on the back burner, just in case.

A few times he asked me to follow him home and come inside for a few minutes, to blunt the understandable spousal displeasure at yet another night of mining for journalistic nuggets.

For one of our annual salary issues, the staff was looking for a new angle. Marilyn Chambers, the early porn star, was in town to promote a book. Someone, not Ned, had the idea of putting her on the cover of Cleveland Magazine, with a cover line like “Marilyn Chambers made $100,000 last year. How did you do?”

Chambers readily agreed to the photo shoot, and, oddly, most of the male editorial staff wanted to be there, including Ned. Afterwards, she posed for a souvenir photo. We editors were wearing suits and ties, but we beamed like fishing buddies who had just landed the biggest walleye in the lake. Marilyn wore only a gold chain around her waist and a really come-hither expression.

I framed that photo and hung it in my house in Ohio City. Ned stopped by one Saturday with his two kids. His daughter spotted it. “Daddy!” Ned whisked her away in a hurry, admonishing, “No, honey, that’s not daddy … that only looks like daddy.”

That’s how I prefer to think of Nedly. He’s not gone. It only looks like he’s gone. —Gary Diedrichs

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