“She’s a godsend,” said Jack Mathes, a 71-year-old veteran, who lives across from Whaley on Morningside Drive. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
Mathes is a East Tennessee native and Vietnam-era Air Force veteran who was retired and living in Florida more than a year ago when he suffered a stroke that damaged his eyesight. He decided to move to Johnson City to be near the VA.
Whaley was the first to welcome Mathes to the neighborhood and to invite him to her church. Since that time, the two have formed a friendship that includes Whaley driving Mathes to his VA medical appointments, to lunch at the Seniors Center in the Memorial Park Community Center and to buy groceries.
Whaley also finds time to attend dances at the Seniors Center, send care packages to members of the military serving in Afghanistan and sell Christmas wreaths to be placed on graves at the National Cemetery at Mountain Home.
“I can’t keep up with her,” Mathes said. “I don’t know how she does it.”
Helping veterans, Whaley said, has become her life’s mission. It goes along with the passion for her church and her love of motorcycles. Whaley is a member of Rolling Thunder’s Tennessee Chapter 4, and is involved in the motorcycle ministry at Fountain of Life Bible Church in Johnson City.
“I enjoy everything I do,” Whaley said. “Sometimes I have to slow down and wash a few clothes.”
Whaley, who was born and raised in Georgia, said her interest in helping veterans began with her late husband, Robert Whaley, a World War II veteran who died in 2013. He was a Washington County native and joined the Army Air Force after graduating from Lamar High School. He was captured by the Germans in 1942 after his B-17 bomber was shot down over Austria.
Whaley met her husband while he was working in Atlanta, and the two were married in 1970. The couple moved to Washington County in 1972, and Robert became involved in the local chapter of ex-POWs. She often accompanied her husband to activities involving other veterans.
She has kept up her involvement with veterans at a time when other people near her age might look to slow down a bit. Whaley said she has no plans to begin taking it easy.
“I will always try to help people,” she said.