Remembering Newspaperman Jim Hurley

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 19, 2012

He hired me in the middle of a recession that seemed pretty serious by standards in the mid-1970s. I had mailed letters to newspapers across North Carolina seeking interviews.
The “sorry, but” replies flooded back depressingly fast. Newspapers had imposed hiring freezes. I only had one glimmer of hope — an invitation to “pop in” at the Salisbury Post even though … “we have no openings.”
Jim Hurley’s death last week brought back a wave of memories about that good and generous man who gave me a chance after college when there were few chances to be had. So concerned about bottom lines now, newspapers and other companies across America these days must be missing countless opportunities to hire talented graduates.
To my amazement, I wasn’t hired on the strength of my college credentials. This farm boy knew the difference between a baler and a combine and that Shallowford was not in Davie County. They made me farm editor, a position once held by Hurley himself and groomed me to eventually move to Davie Publishing.
His influence in Davie was subtle but important. In the 1960s, the Hurley family owned the old Cooleemee Journal, and it was putting serious pressure on the Davie County Enterprise-Record, owned by Gordon and Myrtle Tomlinson. The newspapers merged under the banner of the Enterprise-Record. The Hurleys also acquired majority ownership of The Clemmons Courier, started by Mrs. Tomlinson in 1960.
Being under the umbrella of the Salisbury Post gave these little weekly newspapers a sudden and desperately needed infusion of modern equipment and access to one of the best presses in the state.
The definition of a “good year” to Hurley was the number of journalism awards we received from the N.C. Press Association. He had the opinion that revenue chased a good product. We won a lot of awards and always made a profit.
Hurley believed in benevolence. He believed in tithing. He believed in investing in the community.
Knowing that, Sarah Wood asked if I would take her to meet Hurley during the campaign to build the Davie YMCA, which had faltered after reaching about $700,000 in the goal for a million dollars. The public could only buy so many ham biscuits. Sarah plainly explained the situation. The campaigners were exhausted. All the best cows had been milked, and that million dollar hurdle seemed impossible.
I had expected Hurley to give $100,000. After hearing Sarah’s plea, he doubled that. I will never forget his parting words: “Thank you for asking.” With renewed vigor, the YMCA campaign quickly reached its goal and construction began.
I had never seen anyone give away so much …