Newspaper boss taught more than journalism

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 22, 2012

By Joe Junod
Special to the Salisbury Post
On Monday, Oct. 18, 1971, I had the great good fortune to meet two Salisbury men whose lives and deeds would become role models for me.
The first was Jimmy Hurley.
The second was Garland Gaither.
Actually, Jimmy introduced me to Garland as he and I were headed to lunch for a job interview. Garland was hawking The Post along West Innes Street, his mighty bicycle at the ready. (Garland is a story for another day.)
The reason I found Salisbury and Jimmy was the result of a kind suggestion by the managing editor of The Charlotte Observer after he refused to give me a job. Since college, I had wanted to work at the Observer as a reporter. I applied perhaps five times while working elsewhere. Finally, I quit my job, moved to Charlotte and planned to lay siege at the Observer’s front doors. It was not to be, but unwittingly the managing editor put me on a fortuitous career path.
(While in Charlotte, I earned rooming house rent by stuffing mailboxes with newspaper inserts, an operation run out of the back of a battered Dodge panel truck by a man named Toothie the Clown. Seriously.)
On our way to lunch, Jimmy noticed that my rat-trap of a VW Bug had been ticketed for illegal parking. Jimmy grabbed the ticket off the windshield and said he’d pay for it. My protest was met with a Jimmy shrug and forehead tic. Little did I know then that his small gesture was so very typical of this shy man.
Over lunch, Jimmy hired me (I was astonished) and asked how much I thought I should be paid. I think I said $200 a week. Jimmy said: How will $125 do? Just fine, I replied, just fine. He made my dream come true — working for a daily newspaper. I also worried: Will this work out? I’m a New Yorker with a Bronx accent, long hair, a “Dump Nixon” sticker on my VW and thrift shop clothes. Well, it worked out just fine.
My first day was two weeks later, Monday, Nov. 1, 1971. Time magazine’s cover story for that week was “The Nixon Court.” Likewise, on Nov. 1 that year, the Eisenhower silver dollar was put into circulation. I remember such trivia because Nov. 1, 1971, was one of the most momentous days of my life, trailing only my marriage to Marilyn 11 years later, where Jimmy was one of the groomsmen.
After lunch, Jimmy invited me to stay at his home while I looked for an apartment. When I first laid eyes on their home, near Catawba College, I figured I had the wrong address. This was a tiny house. Newspaper publishers lived in mansions, I had always imagined. Wrong. I came to realize their home was a perfect metaphor for this couple’s approach to life.
While I was living with them, Jimmy asked if I had any savings. (A few thousand in a New York bank.)
Jimmy: You ought to buy some stock in Food Lion.
Me: What’s that?
Jimmy: A grocery store chain that’s going places.
Result: I bought 250 shares at $20 each, and hung on to them for a decade-long wild ride. Count me lucky. Count two of our sons lucky as Food Lion paid for their entire Ivy League college educations.
When I found an apartment (802-1/2 S. Jackson St.), I thanked Jimmy and Gerry for their hospitality and Gerry asked me how much the rent was. Seventy-five dollars a month, I replied. I seem to remember that Gerry nodded at Jimmy, and Jimmy reached for his wallet and handed me $75 to cover my first month’s rent. As I was broke, I did not protest. (Some time later, I stopped by his office to repay the loan, I received another Jimmy shrug and forehead tic and left the office with my $75 inside my wallet.)
The Salisbury Post newsroom was a magical place for me — filled with reporters, editors and photographers — and would remain so (well, on most days) for the next four years. The people and personalities are fresh in my memory: Rose Post, Heath Thomas, Helen Cheney, Jason Lesley, Gordon Peacock, Ed Dupree, Homer Lucas, George Raynor, James Barringer, Junior Austin, and, most memorably, Bootie Brawley. Every day was a learning experience.
When I learned of Jimmy’s death a month after hepassed, I was saddened, but equally grateful that I had known this man: smart, kind, generous, humble. Lots of folks could learn lots of stuff about how to live a generous life well from Jimmy’s style. No need to repeat his and Gerry’s many acts of generosity. The obituary and the remembrances covered that very well. Jimmy carried his wealth (and his very considerable influence) lightly and was perhaps the least condescending person I have ever known. God bless him, and I know He has.
Permit one story. I asked Jimmy if I could go with him when he did some fund-raising. And so one day we visited a very wealthy Salisbury man (Jimmy explained who the man was and how he made (or inherited) his money). Jimmy was raising money for, I believe, a community swimming pool. The man wrote Jimmy a check and handed it to him. Jimmy looked at the check, looked at the man, handed the check back to him and said something like this: Keep your lousy money. You can do much, much better than that. And he turned and headed for the door, and I scampered after him, mouth agape I am sure.
I remembered that little tussle after reading Mark Wineka’s splendid remembrance of Jimmy. One of my absolute favorites lines was this one: “I lean on people,” Jimmy said. “I know who has the money. They can’t poor-mouth me.”
And here is Jimmy talking about what is essentially his code of conduct:
“When the one Great Scorer comes to mark against my name, He’s going to ask what happened to all those opportunities He entrusted me with. I don’t want to have to tell Him, ‘I hid ‘em in a lock box at the bank.’ ”
Pure Jimmy. What a legacy of stewardship. What a privilege it was for me to have crossed paths with this man of measure.
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Joe Junod, of Arlington, Va., spent more than 40 years in the newspaper business. He is writing two books and is a looking for a publisher.