Longtime Catawba College trustee and benefactor, James F. Hurley III, the former editor, publisher, and head of the family who had owned the Salisbury Post for over 80 years, died Monday, April 2.
The death of the 80-year-old Hurley, who joined the Catawba College Board of Trustees in 1977, brings to an end one of the most distinguished periods of personal philanthropy and social awareness in the history of Salisbury and Rowan County.
On the campus of Catawba College, Hurley's influence and generosity is evident. His surname is on a building, rooms, scholarships, academic divisions and awards. Historic Hurley Hall is named in his honor and was renovated thanks to his generosity. A gift from Hurley and his family helped fund the Shuford Stadium construction; there, the Hurley Press Box is named in recognition of that gift. In the Cannon Student Center on campus, the Hurley Room is also named in tribute to Hurley and his family's generosity to the college.
Hurley spent the last four months of his life as a patient in the Kate B. Reynolds Hospice & Palliative Care Center in Winston-Salem. At his bedside was his wife, Gerry, his best friend and confidante of 54 years. Hurley succumbed to cancer, which had ravaged his body earlier when he lost his larynx and relearned to speak using his stomach muscles. Several years earlier, he had suffered a brain aneurysm while on trip to Florida and came near death.
He was the son of the late James F. Hurley, Jr. and Elizabeth Dillard Holmes and carried forward the family name, being the third named James Franklin.
A native Salisburian, Hurley grew up in the Lake Drive area. He attended the Salisbury city public schools up until high school, when he transferred to Woodberry Forest in Virginia. He spent his summer breaks from Woodberry Forest at the Salisbury Post, learning the family's newspaper business, including stints in the advertising department as well as the pressroom. He mixed those assignments with scorekeeping duties for the American Legion baseball team which he had done earlier.
Hurley attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1953.
Quite the "wordsmith" in his newspaper career, as well as in his fundraising avocation, Hurley received great advice on style and content from his journalism school dean, Skipper Coffin, who urged his students not to be fancy writers. Jimmy Hurley took that advice to heart. He was a straightforward writer and followed those standards at the Post and in the wealth of letters and notes he wrote to colleagues on boards, peers in the business, and those he was grooming to be donors to one critical project after another — all in an overarching mission to make Salisbury and its environs a better place to live and work. He put those talents to an especially good use in 1961 when he composed the written entry for Salisbury in the All-American City competition. It was a winning effort, just like many others which were to come later.
Before he could return to the Post and a career in journalism at his family's newspaper, the U.S. Army would claim two years of his life 1953-55, sending him to Fort Benning, Ga., where he was assigned as operations sergeant. When he returned to the Post and Salisbury, his father, James F. Hurley, Jr., placed him in the advertising department; he later became the newspaper's executive editor.
Being a member of the Hurley family meant that Jimmy knew there was more to his heritage than the business resources represented in the newspaper. It also included a strong sense of community and the social obligations and responsibilities that went with occupying a strategic position in that community.
As the years went by, Jimmy used that position and his business acumen to build and expand on his financial legacy, sharing with others, serving as the catalyst to literally "make things happen." What happened were good works — college buildings, plazas, athletic fields, entrance gates, libraries, dormitories, scholarships, parks and social centers, youth facilities, office buildings, renovated theaters, tuition and fees for college students, critical and sustaining support for countless families — the list is long and varied.
Catawba College became one of his primary interests in the 1980s and has continued to hold a special place in his heart. A trustee since 1977, Hurley and former Catawba president Stephen Wurster "hit it off" from the day Wurster was interviewed for the position and remained close friends through Wurster's 11-year presidency. Letters spelling out dreams, plans, strategies, and appreciation flowed between the two men as they forged a new future for the school. That future involved the raising of millions of dollars, a task that Hurley, as head of the Trustee Development Committee and later Board Chairman, took on with relish and enthusiasm. His high energy "take no prisoners" approach, complemented with an innate sense of design and function, was applied with great success to projects both commercial (new structures for his newspaper and in the downtown Salisbury streetscape) and nonprofit/governmental (a new wing for Rowan Public Library, a new senior citizen center, development of Elizabeth Hurley Park, a long-running women's professional golf tournament played at Salisbury County Club, massive additions and changes to Catawba College, and others.)
He was much honored for his contributions and leadership in various community-centered projects and programs. He was named Newsmaker of the Year, Man of the Year, Young Man of the Year, given a Brotherhood Award, and had his name attached to buildings, football stadium press boxes, dormitories, academic divisions , honorary degrees, and on numerous accolades. He built parking lots, paid for uniforms, watches, endowed scholarships, and athletic teams to make trips to tournaments.
One of Hurley's most public roles in recent years has been as chairman of the board of directors of The Blanche & Julian Robertson Family Foundation. Endowed by Julian Robertson, Jr., the foundation has played a dominant role in Salisbury-Rowan's philanthropic environment in recent years. Hurley was a member of its board when the foundation was chartered in the fall of 1997 and served as vice-chairman 1997-2001. From 2001 until 2011, he led the foundation as chairman of the board. It was a post that he relished and filled with gusto. During his decade as chairman, the foundation made grant awards of over $22 million to dozens of agencies and organizations.
While the awards Hurley received from area organizations were appreciated and richly deserved, it was probably the recognition he received from his peers in the world of journalism that was especially meaningful to him. He won a dozen North Carolina Press Awards, served as president of the North Carolina Afternoon Dailies, was a director of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association as well as the UNC Journalism Foundation. These honors were punctuation points to the prizes won in multiple numbers in annual statewide competition by the staff writers and editors at the Post. It all came to a prestigious head with his 1991 induction into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame.
The newspaper business, as the key professional element in Hurley's life, came to a formal conclusion in a legal firm's Charlotte offices on January 31, 1997. The Charlotte meeting was the sale of the Salisbury Post, the Hurley family legacy, to the Evening Post Publishing Company of Charleston, S.C. As longtime Post writer Mark Wineka concluded in a book he wrote about the newspaper and the Hurleys... "It had been a good run."
Several books could be written about Jimmy Hurley and his deeds of philanthropy, community advocacy, and visionary leadership. For now, suffice it to quote from his own pen — "It has been my good fortune to be a son of parents who have instilled in me the importance of education, hard work and Christian principles. Their guidance and love have helped provide me with more material goods than I need or deserve."
In addition to his wife, Gerry, Hurley is survived by his brother, Gordon, and wife Carolyn, of Salisbury; sister-in-law Jennifer Hurley of Florida; niece Elizabeth Hurley of Banner Elk, NC, who was raised in the home; niece Anna Holmes Hurley of New York, NY; niece Gail Ash and nephew Josh Hurley of Florida; and nephew Jeff Hurley of Idaho. A younger brother, Haden, died in 1996.
Memorials may be made to Hurley Park in Salisbury or the donor's choice.
Summersett Funeral Home is handling arrangements. Visit www.summersettfuneralhome.com for information.
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The Community Remembers Jim Hurley (SalisburyPost.com)