A lot of people make a difference in other people’s lives. That’s the real juice in being a human being. And then there are those who are dedicated to it. Those who give their lives to making a difference.
That was Mr. Hurley.
I didn’t know him well, but I knew him all of my life and heard my mom talk about him a lot. Many people (including me) have a habit of complaining about their boss. My mom worked for Mr. Hurley for decades and everything she ever said about him revealed profound gratitude and respect and loyalty. A certain kind of bond happens in a working, creative relationship over many, many years. It’s love.
She told me many times of the secret things he did for people anonymously in order to solve a problem or make a difference.
When my father’s business closed and Dad was able to actually leave town for a couple of weeks, Mr. Hurley offered to send my parents on a trip so that Mom could write about it for the Salisbury Post readers. Mom picked a place that, I’m sure, she never would have thought she would ever go. China. Imagine that.
There’s a room in the journalism department at UNC named for my mother. The NC Writer’s Network annual Creative Nonfiction Competition is named in her honor. Both honors, and others, are well-deserved, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Mr. Hurley had something to do with making that happen.
Mom told me once that when the Post building was newly renovated, that she stood with Mr. Hurley at the window on the top floor, looking out onto Innes Street.
“It’s a dinky little town,” he told her. “But it’s mine.”
And that was how he used his life — being responsible for improving the lives of people in Salisbury. Some of the things he built bear his name. Most do not.
I remember when Catawba got new tennis courts. They had not had them for a few years and had no team. I had never seen Mr. Hurley watch a tennis match before, but he was watching that new team’s first match that day. He had had something to do with those new tennis courts being there.
“I think having a tennis team says something about being a good school,” he said.
That first day the new Y opened (the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA), I walked a few laps on the new track upstairs. He was there, walking.
“We looked around the country at Y’s,” he said. “This is the best in the country for a town this size.”
Jimmy Hurley was amazing. He passed away yesterday. And it is a dinky little town. And it is his.