Former Bethany Beach Mayor Tony McClenny, 70, died on the morning of Monday, Aug. 25, after battling a brain tumor that had suddenly been diagnosed in January and that had forced him to resign from the town council in February in order to seek treatment.
McClenny’s wife, Claudia, noted on Monday that he had been a 40-year participant in a study of aging being conducted through Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, undergoing days of physical and mental testing every two years as part of that study, and that his body was being sent there for analysis before being cremated.
McClenny himself had focused on that aspect of his illness when he resigned in February, saying that he hoped that something could be learned from his situation that could be used to benefit someone else “going through similar travails” in the future.
The family will receive friends Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014, at 10 a.m. at Melson’s Funeral Chapel, 38040 Muddy Neck Road, Ocean View, Del. A memorial service to celebrate McClenny’s life will follow at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, Claudia McClenny asked that donations in his honor be made to the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore, either directly or through Swim Across America and its Baltimore Open Water Swim — a Sept. 21 fundraising swim in which Rebecca McClenny, wife of their son, Bernie, is participating. (Rebecca McClenny’s fundraising web page is available at http://www.swimacrossamerica.org/site/TR/OpenWater/Baltimore?px=1368449&....)
McClenny’s service to the town lasted more than a decade
After purchasing their home in Bethany Beach in 1984 and becoming full-time residents following his second retirement in August of 2001, McClenny got his start in the town government as a committee member, serving starting in September 2001 on the Charter & Ordinance Review Committee (CORC), and later as its vice-chairman.
In the next two years, McClenny was also named to the Board of Elections, shuttle bus committee and the newly formed Communications Committee, where he offered his technological expertise in the redevelopment of the Town’s website.
According to his own website, during the last three months of 2001, even though told it couldn’t be done, McClenny “negotiated” with the United States Post Office (USPS) for local home mail delivery to residents of town who lived east of Route 1. In January 2002, the USPS began delivery to homes east of Route 1.
McClenny was named as a member of the Bethany Beach Planning Commission in 2003, where he served until he was elected to the council in 2004. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Bethany Beach Landowners’ Association from 2002 to 2004, as treasurer and membership chairman — a position he also resigned upon his election to the council.
By January 2005, he had become the council’s secretary/treasurer, as well as serving as the chairman of the Budget & Finance Committee, while continuing to serve as a member of several other committees.
“I wasn’t exactly wasn’t sure what you all were getting me into in January when you selected me as secretary and treasurer. I now have a real good idea as to why nobody else nominated themselves for that position,” he said after the council re-organizational meeting in late 2015, inducing laughter from the audience. “I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve learned a lot. And I would like to thank the other council members for being a good team.”
McClenny’s tenure on the council, and later as vice-mayor and then as mayor, was marked by efforts toward improved communication between the council and townsfolk, including the formation of the Communications Committee. After some local towns moved toward confining citizen comment to a limited period before or after all business at a given council meeting, McClenny was a force behind allowing Bethany’s citizens to continue commenting about issues when they were up for council discussion and voting.
Claudia McClenny said this week that openness in town government had been a major focus for her husband.
“He wanted to get the word out to people,” she said. “He wanted to make sure they were keeping them in the loop. He really felt that was important — that, and bringing people together.”
McClenny was chosen to become vice-mayor by the council in 2006, after just a single-two year term, and he took over the Town’s executive position in 2008. He would remain mayor until Feb. 21, 2014, when, after having presided over that day’s council meeting, he announced with an emotional reading of a letter addressed to his “dear friends,” that he would have to leave the council after more than nine years.
His letter detailed the information provided to him the day before by doctors at Johns Hopkins who were treating him for the brain tumor with which he had been diagnosed in January, after suddenly falling ill while headed out on a vacation. A month later, having been through surgery to remove the tumor, the news was grave.
“The bottom line news was totally not what yours truly had in mind,” McClenny said. “The brain tumor (glioblastoma multiforme, GBM) has proven to be far worse than I understood and, though it was removed, it is not gone. The battle with this condition is overwhelming, and the physicians explained it yesterday to our family in great detail — needless to say, I was shocked. There are no guarantees, according to the physicians, but there is always hope.”
Claudia McClenny had been a regular presence at town hall during his service to the town and was often found by his side when out in the community. In his letter, McClenny expressed his thankfulness for the “wonderful life together” he had enjoyed with his wife.
He added that there was a need to start treatment quickly, with both radiation treatment and chemotherapy. He said they hoped to continue to spend part of their time in Bethany Beach, in the company of friends, as he pursued treatment.
McClenny said his nine-plus years as a member of the council “taught me a great deal, and we worked so well together. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve our community, as well my fellow town council members and town staff members,” he concluded.
While he was noticeably physically weak after treatment began and his speech had slowed after his surgery, he remained a lively presence and continued to engage with the community, attending some council meetings and bandstand entertainment offerings through parts of the summer. In mid-August, he decided to move to a hospice, but first called the Coastal Point to ensure his letter to the editor regarding the 2014 council election was going to be published.
“Bethany Beach has lost a citizen who cared deeply and passionately about his community,” Town Manager Cliff Graviet said Monday. “As a councilperson and mayor, he was always prepared, informed and more than willing to fight the good fight for those things he felt would make Bethany Beach a better place. Always a gentleman and willing to listen to anyone at any time if they wanted to talk about the town he loved so much. He will be missed.”
Councilman Lew Killmer recalled how McClenny encouraged him to run for town council and mentored him along the way.
“I first got to know Tony McClenny soon after moving to Bethany Beach as a full-time resident in 2002,” he said. “In many ways, I followed his lead, from being a member of CORC, then the Planning Commission and finally as a member of the Town Council. He was my No. 1 supporter, and he was the one person who worked on me the most to join him on the Town Council.
“At first I really wasn’t interested on being on Town Council,” Killmer admitted, “but once Tony makes up his mind to do something, it generally happens. He was my mentor all along the way.
“He was well-respected by his colleagues, and through his warm and charming Southern-gentleman style, he had a very large following in Bethany Beach,” he added. “He leaves a wonderful legacy and through his leadership and vision has made Bethany Beach a wonderful, family-oriented and progressive community in coastal Delaware.”
Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman, who was selected by the council this spring to complete McClenny’s council term, also remarked upon McClenny’s friendly and easygoing nature.
“Tony loved Bethany Beach and serving its citizens,” she said. “He was knowledgeable, organized, well-prepared and courteous in conducting meetings as mayor. But when he met people on the street or at meetings, he was friendly and had an easy-to-be-with way about him that made him a goodwill ambassador for the Town.
“When I was chosen to take the seat he vacated on Council, I said then that he could never really be replaced. That still remains true, and we will miss him,” Hardiman added. “For Jerry and myself and so many others, our thoughts and prayers are with Claudia and his family.”
During his campaigns for the council, McClenny received endorsements that called him, among other things, “a dedicated and devoted public servant,” “a consummate team player,” a “servant leader,” one who demonstrates “leadership, integrity and faithfulness” and who goes “above and beyond the ordinary duties of a town councilman.”
“He welcomes you to talk to him. He listens quietly and respectfully and thanks you for talking with him. If your problem has merit he knows how to follow through and he does follow through. He has earned the awe, respect and admiration of many. He gives of himself constantly,” wrote one supporter.
After his resignation as mayor, Dagsboro Mayor Brad Connor praised McClenny’s historic “willingness to be fair and make good decisions, always striving to make all parties satisfied.”
McClenny’s nine-year term on the council, as well as his nearly six years as mayor, included:
• Finalization and construction of the downtown Streetscape project;
• Major beach reconstruction and several rounds of further replenishment, which were deemed to have greatly aided in the town surviving relatively unscathed the wrath of Hurricane Sandy and other strong coastal storms that hit the town after construction of the new dune;
• Construction of a new water tower that is designed to add capacity to the Town’s water system and improve water quality;
• Creation of a commercial lodging zone that paved the way for redevelopment of the Bethany Arms Motel property as a flagship hotel;
• A first-of-its-kind-in-Delaware ban on smoking on the beach and boardwalk and in town parks, which paved the way for similar bans in Rehoboth Beach, Fenwick Island and, as of this week, in Ocean City, Md.
• The acquisition of the former Christian Church and Neff properties and the first stages of their development as a town park;
• Significant focus on beautification of the town, including enhanced plantings in the downtown area and Route 1 medians;
• Formation of a partnership among local municipalities and Sea Colony to support the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company’s ambulance service after the Millville EMS ceased serving the beach areas;
• Creation of non-residential design guidelines for businesses properties and new building height options for residential structures that met new roof-pitch recommendations;
• Revision of the town’s parking system, removing most meters in favor of paystations and mobile-device-based parking payment;
• Improvements to drainage in some flood-prone areas of town;
• A thorough review of town code to remove outdated and inaccurate ordinances and implement new ones where needed;
• Established a precedent for council members and other town officials seeking training through the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration, as McClenny was the first council member to complete an entire series of eight courses with IPA and urged that all council members and commissioners should take pertinent courses; and
• A major revision of the town website and effort to improve the town government’s openness with citizenry, including 2011’s Coffee and the Council events, which he hosted as mayor.
McClenny reached out worldwide
Beyond his service on the town council and as the mayor, McClenny was heavily involved in licensed amateur (HAM) radio, using the call sign N3ME to communicate with people around the world, most recently via an antenna on his Bethany Beach home.
During discussion of restrictions on the height of radio towers inside town limits in 2005, McClenny had championed the value of the radio system as having been extremely useful during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and noted then that he planned to build a tower for his own use on his new home — but within existing guidelines, he emphasized, to be “a good neighbor.”
He also went without a tall antenna for a period after that one failed, waiting for the Town’s regulations to be updated, which they did in 2011, with a requested height limit (but not required, due to the FCC’s prohibition on height limits) of 75 feet.
While the hobby was a source of entertainment, McClenny focused on the important role it can play in the event of a community-wide emergency, attending a Delaware Emergency Management Agency meeting on the subject in 2007 that led to the Town requesting grant funding for equipment so it could establish an emergency communications plan in the event that other communications methods quit working. That equipment was installed at town hall in 2009.
A member of the Amateur Radio Relay League, or ARRL, McClenny explained that members of the ARRL have three main missions they abide by: to maintain international goodwill, experiment and invent new ways to communicate, and for emergency operations.
“On 9/11, all the cell phones were busy and the dial-ups were busy, and groups of amateur radio operators went to the Pentagon to set up stations and provided communications during that time,” he explained in 2009, noting the necessity of the equipment in a time of mass confusion and chaos.
McClenny said that type of communication is necessary because, when all else fails — cell phones, Internet and landlines — HAM operators can be counted upon.
“We might go down, as well, but we can throw a line up in a tree and make it work,” he said.
Former tech exec offered knowledge and skills to those in need
Having retired after 30 years as a retail business executive responsible for the operation of 10 retail stores with 1,400 employees and annual sales of $140 million, McClenny subsequently pursued his computer hobby and co-founded the Washington, D.C.-area Internet service provider World Data Network.
In that role, he became a founding member and one-time board member of the U.S. Internet Industry Association, as well as a charter member of the Capital Area Systems Operator Association, which he served as an officer and member of the Board of Directors for a number of years.
McClenny and his partner sold the business in 2000, but his interest in and involvement with computers extended into his retirement in Bethany Beach, as he used his expertise to repair computers, including bringing donated machines back to life for use by those who couldn’t otherwise afford one. Working through Families Connect in Millsboro, he provided hundreds of refurbished computers to those in need.
He also established an e-mail newsletter and a website at bethany-beach.net that he used not only to bring town news to the public but also offered, free of charge, to town council candidates — all of them — for their use during their campaigns. The site, as he described it, was “created to promote our town, its citizens, visitors and services.” (Much of the content on the site is outdated or no longer accessible from the main home page but can be seen by going to http://www.bethany-beach.net/_overlay/index.htm.)
McClenny also offered his computer expertise to those wishing to learn — particularly those most needing basic computer knowledge. He taught an adult-education class titled “Computers for the Terrified” — (he told the Coastal Point he couldn’t take credit for the title, though it was on target for his audience) — with the goal of taking the intimidation factor out of interacting with a computer, at a time when more and more seniors were finding it necessary to catch up with the technology.
“I think it’s great. That’s really who we’re teaching to,” said McClenny in 2005. “We want to remove the intimidation factor that most people who haven’t used them feel.”
“They’ll get an e-mail from their daughter with a picture of their granddaughter in it, and they don’t know how to actually see the pictures,” he explained. “We’ll show them how to do that.”
Along with the class came McClenny’s personal pledge that they’d eventually absorb the lessons, or he’d continue to help them. While speaking to the Coastal Point at his home, McClenny got a telephone call.
“That was one of my students,” he explained. “She said, ‘I have a problem.’ I give them my number. They can call me for help, as long as it isn’t after 10.”
“It’s very gratifying for the instructor to be talking about something and hear a student say, ‘Oh, my! I always wanted to learn how to do that,” McClenny said. “You see these people when they get it, and you realize you’ve done something really good for them.”
Amongst his other activities in the community, McClenny was also an active member of the Bethany Beach Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and during 2002 and 2003 he served on the Bethany Beach Christian Conference Center board of directors.
He was a vocal and active supporter of the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company, often mentioning their events during his mayoral report at council meetings, and served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of South Coastal Library (FOSCL) for several years.