Guilty of Serial Hugging
He was no saint!" said Eugene Whelan's mother, Joan, her laughter bubbling up. "Yeah, he could be a giant pain!" her husband, Alfred, added, chuckling about the ninth of their 10 children.
But examples eluded them.
While Firefighter Whelan, 31, undoubtedly jettisoned saint eligibility at some Rockaway pub or Grateful Dead concert — a captain called him "the king of fun" — he was still terrific. He kept extra winter jackets in his Jeep in case he spotted a shivering homeless person. He was a persistent serial hugger, spreading those burly embraces known as "Eugene hugs."
He was a Mr. Fix-it and human Velcro to kids. In Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, the neighborhood served by Engine Company 230, children would arrive at the firehouse with broken bicycles for Firefighter Whelan to make whole.
During a school visit, he asked why one child was left in the bus. The child was paralyzed, a teacher replied. Mr. Whelan carried the child to the fire truck. "He understood what life was really about," said his father, "so we feel pretty good about him."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 23, 2001.