Hurley left a lasting impression on Salisbury

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 4, 2012

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — About mid morning every day, Salisbury Post employees looked forward to Jim Hurley’s bustle through the newsroom.
He usually stopped by to speak with the editor. Columnist Rose Post sometimes called him over for a chat. Hurley might drop off a note in the sports department, or pass along a reader complaint to the managing editor.
But Hurley seldom stayed long before moving on to other departments. He basically wanted all the Post employees to know he was there, if needed.
“I used to love the way I felt when Jimmy walked through the newsroom,” former Post reporter Jerri Menges said Tuesday. “He carried with him a sense of humility and a great respect for others that made you trust him and feel secure.
“I will never forget his kindness. He cared about his employees, and he loved to show it, in word and in deed.”
Tributes to James F. Hurley III, former publisher of the Salisbury Post, poured into the newspaper after his death early Monday afternoon at age 80. He went by both “Jim” and “Jimmy.”
Hurley cast a large shadow over his family’s newspaper, but he was just as influential in shaping the community. Through various board chairmanships, foundation roles and self appointments, Hurley guided efforts for some of the biggest — and just as likely, some of the smallest — fundraising efforts ever.
When Hurley got behind some need, he did it with his own money, then challenged others to follow his lead.
“I can’t imagine a Salisbury without Jimmy Hurley,” said Salisbury attorney Ed Norvell, who joined Hurley on many money-raising campaigns. “He was a friend, former boss, teacher, mentor and hero to me.”
A memorial service for Hurley will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at First Presbyterian Church, with a reception to follow in the church’s Lewis Hall.
The Hurley family owned the Salisbury Post from 1912 to early 1997, when Jim and his youngest brother, Gordon, sold the newspaper to Evening Post Publishing of Charleston, S.C. But the brothers didn’t drop out of sight — they set up an office directly across from the newspaper from where they could continue looking after their investments and supporting various projects.
Over the 85 years of the Hurleys’ ownership, the newspaper had only three publishers: Jim’s grandfather, his father and Jim Hurley himself, who served in that capacity for 22 years.
“Jim Hurley will be missed for the great man he was and for his immeasurable contribution to this community,” Salisbury Post Publisher Greg Anderson said. “I will be forever thankful to him for his welcome and friendly warmth.”
The first time Anderson met Hurley, the former publisher couldn’t wait to show him an old line graph displaying the Post’s annual profits from the mid 1900s through the sale of the paper.
“He proudly showed me where profits went up when he became publisher,” Anderson recalled. “Then he showed me where profits began to fall in the 1990s — and with a big, proud smile on his face, he pointed to the declining line graph and said, ‘That’s when I sold it!’ ”
Prior to becoming publisher in 1974, Hurley grew up in the newsroom, working as a young sports correspondent, then reporter and editor. Early and brief stints in the press room and as an advertising salesman didn’t take.
Hurley also was a journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina and an Army veteran.
“Above all, I will remember Jimmy’s insistence on excellence,” Post Editor Elizabeth Cook said. “He wanted the Salisbury Post to be the best, and he instilled that in the people who worked for him. I think he felt the same way about the Hurley Park, the Rufty-Holmes Senior Center, Catawba College and anything else he put his hand to — including the city of Salisbury itself.
“This is a personal loss for Jimmy’s family and friends and a public loss for a community that benefited from his leadership more than anyone knows.”
Sam Post, whose late mother Rose Post worked for the newspaper for more than 55 years, compared Hurley’s impact on Salisbury to fictional Bedford Falls without George Bailey.
“Can you imagine the town of Salisbury without the presence of Jimmy Hurley?” Post asked. “It would be completely different.”
Fred Corriher served as both chairman and president of Catawba College, for which Hurley worked tirelessly through the years. Corriher said Hurley found much of his love of philanthropy at Catawba College, and it expanded dramatically from there.
“I’ve never seen anyone who loved to give more than Jim Hurley,” Corriher said.
He credited Hurley’s passion for reshaping Salisbury and Rowan County.
“It seems trite to say that we shall not see his likes again,” Corriher said, “but I truly and sincerely believe it to be true.”
Phil Kirk, former chairman of the State Board of Education and a Salisbury native, said it is impossible to describe what Hurley meant to him personally, and he is certain hundreds, if not thousands, of other people would have the same feeling.
“He was rather quiet,” Kirk said, “but everyone listened intently when he spoke, whether it was in the newsroom or the composing room or the press room at the Post, or at the board of trustees at Catawba College, where he exercised quiet, but effective leadership.”
Ned Cline, a former Salisbury Post reporter and retired managing editor for the Greensboro News & Record, said Hurley was an inspiration for many young journalists over four decades.
“He never took himself too seriously, but certainly helped instill in many of us the need for serious journalism,” Cline said. “He allowed me incredible freedom to pursue dogged and important stories. He made the Post one of the best small newspapers anywhere.”
Cline said Hurley, then editor, once agreed with him that he deserved a salary increase but Hurley knew his father, then publisher J.F. Hurley Jr., would not approve it.
“To offset the pay raise I didn’t get, Jimmy transferred three shares of General Motors stock from his name to mine,” Cline said. “He asked me not to tell his dad, and I never did.”
A memory that famed Wall Street investor Julian H. Robertson Jr. couldn’t shake from his head Tuesday was Hurley’s holding the Woodberry Forest school record — and probably the Virginia state record — for the longest punt at 80 yards. It happened in the late 1940s.
“He always said there was a hurricane behind it,” Robertson said. “A lot of people don’t realize what a great athlete he was. He could play sports, and because he played them so well, he really didn’t like them. He gave up golf at a relatively young age.”
Friends since boyhood, Hurley and Robertson were fraternity brothers at UNC, and Robertson said Hurley was a shrewd investor in his own right, even from the earliest days of Food Lion. Hurley’s father bought each of his three boys original Food Town stock in 1957, as a show of appreciation for the new grocery store’s advertising with the newspaper.
It paid off handsomely for the brothers when the grocery chain hit its boom years.
“Jimmy Hurley was a great pal of mine,” Robertson said Tuesday from his New York office. “I just thought he was terrific. … He leaves a tremendous void.”
Wells Fargo banker Bill Greene said Hurley came into his Salisbury office almost every day to reread the newspaper, get his account balances and complain that the bank was robbing him blind with the latest $1.50 fee.
“We always refunded any fees because we knew he would turn around and give it to someone who needed it,” Greene said.”
Hurley routinely bought Greene’s assistant, Denise, lunch on Fridays at Sidewalk Deli.
“His chair is still where it should be, and I wish he was coming in the door to sit down and read the box scores,” Greene said. “I still put the paper in front of the chair, waiting for him.”
Joe Cataldo, owner of Cooper’s restaurant in Salisbury, saw Hurley at work when Cataldo was trying to raise $400,000 for Spencer’s Library Park.
Cataldo went to Hurley’s office with all the figures and a beautiful scale model of the project. Hurley asked some insightful questions before instructing his secretary, Liz Rankin, to call up another Salisbury philanthropist and tell him to bring his checkbook.
The man soon walked in, listened to Hurley describe the project and wrote out a $70,000 check before leaving.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Cataldo said.
Meanwhile, Hurley said he would donate money, too. Even though he could write a check for the whole thing, Hurley told Cataldo, he wanted to see that at least 10 percent of the people in Spencer supported the Library Park project.
In weeks to come, people consistently walked into Cataldo’s then Spencer restaurant and handed him checks. He knew Hurley was working behind the scenes. Cataldo often would see him driving by the park, or he would pop in at the restaurant for an update.
From that experience, Cataldo learned that Hurley would support what the community supported. It was a basic lesson Cataldo would never forget. Besides, he liked the way Hurley cut through all the guff and might even cuss now and then.
Barbara Garwood, executive director of Abundant Living Adult Day Services, said Hurley was more than a donor when it came to her organization’s capital campaign.
“He was a mentor, adviser and friend who was dedicated to our success,” Garwood said. “His words of wisdom were invaluable.”
After reporter Tracy Presson left the Post in 1998, she ran into some difficult times with health issues that eventually placed her on disability. Even with her mother’s help, Presson had gone through all of her financial resources and, as a last resort, went to see Hurley to ask for a loan.
He told Presson, “I don’t give loans to friends. You lose the friend, and you lose the money.”
Hurley quickly wrote her a check for $1,500 — a number Presson suggested — though he would have done it for much more, she knew.
“I never forgot it,” Presson said. “It was just great to have a person like him to turn to. I knew he would be there for me.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.