Cook column: Hurley was an avid investor in people

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 6, 2012

At Jimmy Hurley’s memorial service Thursday, Dr. Jim Dunkin thanked Clyde Overcash for arranging the beautiful flowers in the church.
Clyde picked the blooms at Hurley Park and, according to Dunkin, said he dared someone to ask him what he was doing taking those flowers.
That drew a chuckle from the crowd filling the pews and spare chairs of First Presbyterian Church. Jimmy would have liked the source of the flowers — the park his family created in memory of his dear mother — as well as the defiant spirit with which they were obtained.
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Salisbury is seeing a changing of the guard with the passing of some revered leaders.
Jimmy, whose family owned the Salisbury Post from 1912 to 1997, died last Monday. He was a leading philanthropist, thanks more to capital gains than newspaper profits.
Paul Bernhardt, former mayor and the owner of Bernhardt Hardware, died Thursday night. He was a fixture in downtown Salisbury, a wise and caring man.
In our Salisbury Post family, we still feel the loss of longtime columnist Rose Post, who died last fall.
Life goes on, but with growing awareness of how fleeting our time on this earth is.
So we need to enjoy the time we have.
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Jimmy was in a hospice in Winston-Salem for more than three months. But don’t imagine a person immobilized by illness.
More than one person came back from a visit reporting in amazement that Jimmy was sitting up and alert, writing out messages and signing checks.
As a result of surgery for the cancer in his throat, he had lost the ability to speak completely, so he engaged in conversation by writing on an electronic notepad — when he wanted to.
Dunkin shared an experience from one of his many visits with the Hurleys:
“On Friday afternoon, March 23rd when Jimmy’s Tarheels were playing the University of Ohio, I stopped by to visit. I should have known he might be preoccupied.”
That’s an understatement.
“He was sitting up at his bedside table with his writing board. I remember standing by his side paying attention to the game. He wrote 0 of 2! In a few minutes he wrote 4 of 10 with so much emphasis. Having had a son play ball through high school I left that day knowing this man had more desire/passion/knowledge of basketball than I ever had.”
That was a short visit.
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Jimmy was waking up from a nap when David Setzer, Mark Wineka and I dropped in for a visit about a month ago.
I hung back a little, not knowing what to expect from a man staring death in the face.
“Who’s going to win the election?” he wrote.
Uh, um. For president?
“County commissioners.”
His interest in local politics at a time like this caught me off guard. I could not think of a single name on the 15-person ballot.
I don’t know, I said.
He asked how the school board was going to complete funding of the new central office and talked about who favored which site. We discussed the presidential race and other news.
It was like old times, sitting together in his office at the Post.
But I slipped up.
Did he hear that the Dow had passed 13,000 the previous day?
I had forgotten to whom I was speaking.
Jimmy picked up the remote and clicked it in the direction of the TV. A business channel sprang to life, with a stock ticker running across the bottom of the screen.
He scribbled on his board.
“Can watch all day when it’s good news.”
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I came to work for the Hurleys in 1978 at the sage age of 21, not long out of college. I can’t begin to tell you what influence their presence and trust have had on our family.
They are good people.
Our middle daughter, Mary, called to share a childhood memory of “Mr. Hurley,” as she called him.
It was Take Your Daughter to Work Day many moons ago. When Jimmy saw Mary in the newsroom, he invited her to go on a short trip — to the roof of the building. They had a birds-eye view of Salisbury. She was thrilled. And he gave her a Susan B. Anthony dollar.
That dollar was spent like all others — quickly. But Mary says she will never forget how special she felt to have someone so important spend time with her.
Countless people can tell of dramatic ways Jimmy rescued them during a crisis or supported an important community cause. But the little kindnesses matter a lot, too.
He was not a softy on the business side. He told me “no” more than once when I asked for something for the newsroom — usually another employee. He was not harsh about it, just stern.
And the only personal criticism I remember was when he chided me that I should do something better with my money than buy a new car.• • •
Jimmy was an avid investor, both in the stock market and in people. And the people he invested in are legion.
“If you are trying to find a summary of Jimmy’s life,” Pastor Dunkin said, “I would suggest these words of Jesus, ‘As you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
“If you want to know life in all its fullness, then see that as you reach out to the hungry, thirsty, a stranger, those naked, sick or in prison, you are reaching out to Jesus himself.
“… All the ways Jimmy sought to reach out to those in need, whether it was to individuals, groups, organizations or community/state causes — it was as though he was reaching out to Jesus himself. All were members of Jesus’ family. And so Jimmy would say to all of us, ‘Go, and do likewise.’ ”
We may not be able to do it on the same scale, but we can do it with the same giving heart.
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Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.