Angela Whalen –
Gone But Not Forgotten
by Sandra Dinsmore
On January 25th, 400 mourners filled the Bragdon-Kelley Funeral Home in Milbridge for Angela Whalen's funeral. They came from Bar Harbor, Beech Hill, Cherryfield, Corea, Cutler, Ellsworth, Franklin, Friendship, Gouldsboro, Jonesport, Milbridge, Prospect Harbor, Steuben, Sullivan, and Winter Harbor to pay their respects to a 36-year-old wife, mother, and businesswoman whom most had considered a friend. They also came out of friendship and respect for her 39-year-old fisherman husband, Roy.
Angela had made friends out of just about everyone she met whether through fishing with Roy, hauling bait for several fishermen, or at her Ashville Redemption Center. “She was always doing something,” fisherman Frank Hammond said, and as family and other friends made abundantly clear, Angela and Roy made a point of helping others. “She always had a smile on her face,” person after person said, frequently adding, “She never had a negative thing to say.” Luanne Chipman added, “There isn’t anything he and Angela wouldn't do. Always, they were always willing to help anybody.”
Almost everyone at Angela’s service and afterward at Gouldsboro's Knights of the Order of Pithias hall belonged to the downeast lobster fishing community. For the almost five years of Angela's illness, that community came together in many ways to help her, Roy, and children, Hannah, now 11, and Roy Lee, III, now 9, and Roy's mother, Bonnie, who had moved in with them to help when Roy Lee was born.
After three years without diagnosis, on November 16, 2009, a surgeon found two cancerous masses in Angela’s abdomen. Two days later Roy drove her to Portland for more diagnostic tests. They stayed for nearly two months before surgeons found more cancer.
Back home, Jason Knowles, Phillip Torrey, and Mark Bennett baited and hauled Roy’s traps twice, and sent him the money before bringing his traps in. Fishermen helped Bonnie with the children; their wives cooked and delivered meal after meal.
All told, Angela and Roy spent 52 nights in the Portland hospital. That's right, Roy stayed, too. He never left Angela alone for a single night. As their minister, Charles Kelley, later observed, “Never have I seen a man just wait on his wife.”
The bill for those 52 nights and three more surgeries came to $2.5 million. Roy's health insurance for a $5,000 deductible policy costs him $1,763 per month. He’s paid the $5,000 and the co-pays for medicine. Thus far, he’s paid over $23,000.
Friends, relatives, and colleagues wanting to help with medical expenses decided to have a benefit dinner in early March 2010.
Thanks to a friend, benefit organizer Tricia Trundy and her husband were able to procure the Knights of the Order of Pithias building on Route 1, in Gouldsboro, for the event.
Trundy and her team had only three weeks to get the word out and to produce the affair. They decided on a Chinese Auction fundraiser. “We put signs up,” Trundy said, “and a bunch of [Roy's] friends and I went around to businesses and got donations door to door.” She crowed, “We must have had over 200 items donated!”
Diane Knowles, who helped, said some of the donations, such as boat wheel reconditioning, from Esposito’s, were worth upwards of $1,000. Large amounts of bait and shrimp, other boat items, and gift certificates from stores and restaurants made their way to the auction table.
“People were coming in and putting down a hundred dollars,” said Knowles, who sold tickets. “Some people wouldn't take all those tickets. They wanted to donate. I’ve done a lot of different fundraisers,” she said, “and I have never in my life had people put down that much money. Usually it’s like $5. Instead, they’d put down a handful of twenties or a hundred-dollar bill.”
A friend of Roy’s won the “50-50” lottery worth $595 the day of the benefit and donated that. Other friends and Nautilus Marine, in addition to donating auction items, each gave Roy $500.
Over 450 people attended, and everyone agreed it was the most financially successful benefit they knew. Roy, stunned by so much generosity, found it, “A very humbling experience.”
The generosity continued. Roy said Tim Toppins hauled his boat in and out for the whole five years without charging him. And in January 2011, when a doctor thought it might be the end for Angela, Trundy's husband, Tee, and Hammond hauled Roy's boat and put it in Hammond's yard. “I didn't have to touch it,” Roy said. “I didn’t have to leave the hospital.”
That January Angela called minister and fisherman Charles Kelley, of the Unionville Church of God. She had liked a funeral he conducted, and told him she didn’t want a funeral given by someone who didn't know her. Over her last year, Kelley said, “She became a close friend and a young woman that I fell in love with.” He added, “Never once did she complain.”
In November, Roy told Winter Harbor fisherman Phillip Torrey that Angela wanted to know if he “Might take the kids out. Take them away, give them a good time.” His kids are almost the same ages. When Angela thanked him, Torrey replied, “Any time.” With which she said, “Any time would help.”
Torrey, who doesn’t fish in winter, said, “What could be more important than somebody in that situation asking me to spend time with her kids? That having me spend time with her children would bring her peace. Hey, if I died right now, that would be my biggest honor. I just settled into a certain schedule of being with them every day.”
Fisherman Joe Bennett came along the first night and afterward suggested that they repeat the pattern. The two fishermen and the two children developed a routine.
Torrey said; “I got them off the school bus and took them to the hospital to see her. We had a good time. It lasted two months.”
Every night, he said, “Even though she was very sick—it would bring tears to your eyes—she would make herself get out of bed and come down and sit at the supper table. It was powerful. Every night. No matter what happened, she would sit at the supper table with the kids. Then Roy would take her up to bed, and Joe would stay with Bonnie, Roy's mom, and we would play games or watch a movie, and when it became bedtime, then Joe and I would leave.”
When Angela went to the hospital for those last 14 days, Roy, of course, stayed there with her, and with him, Torrey and Bennett. They came home those last days just to shower. Roy showered at the hospital.
“She was that rare person,” Torrey said. “She asked for nothing and gave everything.” “She touched many more people than you could fathom.”
“When you have six highline fishermen lugging your wife’s casket,” Roy explained, “that tells you what kind of person she was.” The six pallbearers included Joe Bennett, Roger Chipman, Bruce Crowley, Frank Hammond, Jason Knowles, and Phillip Torrey, who agreed, saying, “That's quite a testament to have some of the biggest highliners there are carrying the casket of a 36-year-old woman. You couldn’t say more than that in a fishing community, I wouldn't think.”