By Mark Wineka
Much of the Salisbury Post's story can be told through three generations of men, all named Hurley.
The family owned and operated the Salisbury Post for 85 of its 100 years of existence.
The first of these men, James Franklin Hurley, was born in the Cabarrus County Jail on Sept. 20, 1870.
That probably deserves explanation. His father, Alexander Hurley, was Cabarrus sheriff at the time. The family lived at the jail.
Hurley's father suffered such excruciating headaches from the metal plate that had been inserted in his head after a Civil War wound at Gettysburg that he shot himself to death in 1871. James Hurley's mother, Jane, later married Stanhope Caldwell, a prosperous farmer of the Poplar Tent community.
In time, James F. Hurley attended Davidson College and married Jeanette Erwin. She gave birth on July 25, 1896, to the couple's only child, James Franklin Hurley Jr.
Shedding but never forgetting his family's farming background, James Franklin Hurley eventually established a newspaper, The Concord Tribune, in 1900.
As a child, Hurley had lost a lung to whooping cough, and his breathing problems dogged him throughout his adult life. Concern about his health led him to sell the Concord newspaper in 1910.
Hurley spent the next year or so regaining his physical strength. He tried an insurance business venture before news reached him of the Salisbury Evening Post's fire in 1912. After assembling investors and buying the Post, he moved his family to Salisbury and quickly established himself in the community.
He became an elder at First Presbyterian Church in Salisbury. In 1920, he helped to organize the Salisbury Rotary Club, serving as its third president. In the same year, fellow newspapermen elected him president of the North Carolina Press Association. Hurley also became moderator of the Concord Presbytery, which included 64 churches in eight counties.
As a publisher, editor and citizen, Hurley labored continually for educational progress and the improvement of rural schools. He served as chairman of the Rowan County Board of Education from 1927 until 1934. The following year, after he had resigned for health reasons, school officials named the first county-consolidated school for him -- today's Hurley Elementary.
He served on the Wachovia Bank and Trust Co. board and as president of the Citizens Building and Loan Association.
"A personal Democrat," Post Editor Spencer Murphy wrote in later years, "Publisher Hurley maintained his paper with a genuinely wider leeway as Democratic Independent. He 'meddled' in politics noticeably less than his conferees of the Fourth Estate, conceiving good government in Salisbury and Rowan County as the primary goals for which the Post should strive."
Hurley's son joined him at the Post in 1920 and became business manager within a couple of years. The junior Hurley and his wife gave birth to their first son, James Franklin (Jimmy) Hurley III, exactly 19 years to the day that the Post resumed publication in Salisbury after the 1912 fire.
"Grandpa Hurley was a public speaker," Jimmy Hurley said. "He would take the leadership roles. Daddy never would take charge of anything publicly because he could not speak in public. He was too timid."
On a few occasions, young Jimmy Hurley spent time with his grandfather at the Lakeland Terrace Hotel in Lakeland, Fla. Hurley would visit his old friend, Sam Farabee, and use the time to rejuvenate. In the mid 1920s, Hurley routinely started to spend the winter months in Lakeland to find healing in the warm sunshine and outdoors.
As he grew older, Hurley suffered influenza attacks, including a third severe episode in Florida on Christmas Day 1935. He entered the Morrill Hospital in Lakeland and stayed several weeks before doctors decided that he was in good enough condition to travel home. His wife, Jeanette, and nurse Bessie Drennen accompanied him on the Southern Railway train from Lakeland on March 5, 1936.
A couple of hours north of Jacksonville, Fla., Hurley died of heart failure following a bronchial attack.
"Mr. Hurley made a definite and lasting contribution to the betterment of our community," wrote Walter Woodson Sr. in one of the numerous "Expressions of Regret" printed by the Salisbury Evening Post on the publisher's death. "He fearlessly advocated every good cause and left his influence on the civic, religious and moral life of this section."
James Franklin Hurley had established certain principles for the newspaper's operation:
n He put money back into the Post, investing heavily in modern equipment.
n He forced the Post to become involved in the community.
n He devoted editorial space to causes aimed at improving Salisbury and Rowan County.
n He provided a solid business, where employees could rely on a regular paycheck and long-time security.
With Hurley's death, the family publishing baton passed to the younger, taller and quieter son, J.F. Hurley Jr., who held on tightly.
Employees set their watches by the time J.F. Hurley Jr. walked through the Salisbury Evening Post plant each morning. He was the quiet shadow slipping in, hardly saying a word, distinguished by his hat and dark suit. He usually smoked a cigarette or, after giving up that habit, chewed on an unlit cigar.
Close to deadline, he paced and looked over shoulders in the back shop where the last pages for the day's edition were coming together. Going to press on time meant everything, the difference to J.F. Hurley Jr. between success and failure. A newspaper that didn't reach a subscriber in time was worthless, he thought.
On rare occasions that employees spoke to him, they called him "Mr. Hurley."
But he had other names. R.O. Everett, an executive at Wachovia Bank, liked to call him "Mr. Jim." James "Bootie" Brawley, a wire editor and noted local historian, referred to him as "Old Buck." When his three sons came of age, many Post employees started calling him "the Old Man." A few labeled him "The Tiger" for all the stalking he did. In later years, he became "The Chairman," and his sons never stopped calling him "Cete," a family nickname.
Politicians sought Old Buck's advice. And because he chose his words so carefully, when he did speak at public meetings, people paid attention. One night Chamber of Commerce and school leaders in Rowan County droned on at a public meeting about the county's need for an industrial education center, which would become the community college. Hurley stood up when he couldn't listen any longer.
"Hell," he said, "we all know we want it. Let's get on with it and stop this meeting."
That was the last word.
Hurley's forays through the plant, his daily coffee breaks at the Piedmont Cafe, his voracious reading, his frequent drives through the county, his participation on various boards and even poker play at the Legion post seemed to equip him with inside information.
One observer said, "Nobody in town knew where more bones were buried."
Hurley almost never vacationed, remained tight-lipped about company finances, and his arm's length management style sometimes frustrated department heads who wanted more stroking or confirmation that they were doing the right thing. Hurley expected the right thing. He would let someone know when something was wrong.
The Chairman always turned the light off in his office when he left, and he lived simply, usually driving a nondescript car bare of any fancy options.
Yet he became a man of considerable wealth through his own shrewd investments.
Hurley's newspaper and Hurley himself had what he liked to call a " warm eye" to go along with the "cold eye" affixed on the bottom line.
"He did so much that no one ever knew about," said his youngest son, Gordon Hurley, looking back once. "He would go out of his way to hide anything good he did."
While the original James Franklin Hurley had been a talkative promoter, a man who relished his public roles and became a symbol for his causes, the son stood much taller and physically stronger. He had grit to him and preferred to lobby for change and progress away from any spotlight. His stature at the newspaper would never be questioned.
Hurley, 39 when his father died on the train home, wasn't exactly inexperienced when he became publisher. He already had worked 16 years at the Post, most of it as business manager. School and World War I prevented him from starting his full-time career at the newspaper until his early 20s. He attended Greenbrier and the University of North Carolina for two years before entering the Army.
James Franklin Hurley's dedication to the typewriter, his community involvement and the ever-increasing amount of time in Lakeland, Fla., had often left the son in charge. J.F. Hurley Jr. knew what it meant "to get the paper out."
The Chairman's leadership guided the newspaper through the darkest Depression days, World War II and the dramatic changes that come over half a century. Along the way, he also made room, sometimes grudgingly, for his three sons: Jimmy, Haden and Gordon.
Jimmy Hurley's first memory of the newspaper was as a child, being pushed from department to department on the cart holding the accounts receivable tray.
When he was a bit older, he and friends used to play hide-and-seek among the huge rolls of newsprint until his father would chew them out and tell them to leave. On Saturday afternoons, Jimmy and his friends might attend a movie downtown at the Capitol, Victory or State theaters and swing by the newspaper for a ride home with his father. J.F. Hurley Jr. worked every Saturday morning and every Saturday night.
Jimmy Hurley's first job at the Salisbury Evening Post as a 12-year-old was keeping the scorebook and statistics for the Salisbury American Legion baseball team, from which the newspaper assembled its boxscores.
J.F. Hurley and his wife, the former Elizabeth Holmes, added to their brood with the birth of Haden Holmes Hurley in 1936, followed by Gordon Pannill Hurley in 1937.
As the brothers grew, Gordon said, Haden stood out as the charmer in the family: "He could get along with everybody," Gordon said.
Jimmy Hurley also thought of Haden as the shrewdest of the trio. Because of the age difference -- Jimmy was almost five years older than Haden and 61/2 years older than Gordon -- Haden and Gordon became natural sidekicks.
Gordon looked on Jimmy as the perfect son and brother. Gordon also noticed that his oldest brother seemed driven to succeed.
"If there was an award, he'd go after any award," Gordon said. "He was very goal-oriented, certainly much more of a striver, I'd guess you'd call it, than Haden and I. At the end of Sunday school they'd always give you a promotion certificate, and Jimmy would always bring his home. Haden and I would have ours balled up in a pocket."
Jimmy Hurley graduated from Virginia's Woodberry Forest in 1949. Classmates included Frank Daniels, who would become publisher of the News & amp; Observer in Raleigh, and John Northrup, who became publisher of the Washington (Pa.) Observer. In all, five people in the class went into the newspaper business.
During the summer breaks from Woodberry Forest, Jimmy would return to jobs at the newspaper. He followed up on his scorekeeping duties with stints in the pressroom and advertising. The making of flat casts in the press room often spit hot lead onto Hurley's hands and left scars as he peeled the lead off with skin still attached.
In the pressroom, he would make $43 a week, saving $40 of it. He was supposed to be selling advertising in the summer of 1948, but he mostly collected old bills. He found himself lacking in both areas: selling and collecting.
Graduating from Woodberry, Jimmy Hurley went on to the University of North Carolina, as would Haden and Gordon.
As a journalism major, Hurley took most to heart the advice and instruction from Skipper Coffin, dean of the journalism school and formerly of the Greensboro Daily News.
"Don't be a fancy writer," Coffin used to say. "Talk to the typewriter. If you go to a fire, rush home and tell your family what happened, that's your lead."
Jimmy graduated in January 1953 and faced a two-year stint in the Army, serving as a company clerk and operations clerk at Fort Benning, Ga. When he returned to Salisbury to work at the newspaper, his father placed him in advertising as a salesman under Palmer Laughridge.
"I was not as good a salesman as I should have been," Hurley remembered. "I was too young for anybody to have confidence in me."
J.F. Hurley soon moved his son to the newsroom as a reporter. All of Jimmy's friends who were sons of publishers had already become assistants to the publisher at their papers, and Jimmy worried that they were learning more about the business side of running the newspaper.
"Son," J.F. Hurley said, "you find out who's stealing down at City Hall and write about it, and you will be one hell of a lot better publisher than those kids sitting at their daddies' knees."
Jimmy Hurley married Gerry Trammell, an assistant home demonstration agent, in June 1958. As Editor Spencer Murphy's health continued to fail in the late 1950s, Jimmy found more of the editorial duties being shifted in his direction.
The 1960s proved to be a coming-out party for Jimmy and Haden Hurley, who also joined the paper after Woodberry, UNC and the Army. Jimmy Hurley demonstrated that he wanted more responsibility when he became Sunday editor in 1959 and created an entirely local editorial page with in-house columnists and opinions on area issues.
Jimmy Hurley began preparing himself for bigger roles at the Salisbury Evening Post and in the community. In 1961, at age 30, he became the youngest president of the Salisbury-Rowan Chamber of Commerce. The Jaycees named him 1962's Young Man of the Year. He wrote much of the city's All-American City entry -- a designation Salisbury won. At the Post, Jimmy won first-place writing awards in editorials in 1960 and 1962 as, more and more, he was substituting for the ailing Murphy.
At Murphy's death, Jimmy assumed the editor's job without missing a beat, although the official announcement wasn't made in the newspaper until Feb. 7, 1965. He was 33. The story said he had served as "executive editor" for the past two years.
Haden and Gordon Hurley set out on their own careers in advertising at the Post. Gordon, who also had worked summers at the Post as a teenager, started a long tenure in advertising in 1962 that eventually would lead him to the presidency of the company.
Haden Hurley worked first in retail under Palmer Laughridge but soon moved to the undermanned classified advertising department, where he joined T.D. Leonard and Anne Knox. It was in classified that Haden quickly made his mark with the Salisbury Evening Post, dramatically expanding the section.
"He really turned that thing around," said J.P. Helms, a veteran retail ad salesman by the 1960s. "Of course, I think he went down (to classified) at a pretty good time, and he got some big real estate ads going. He had some advantages because he knew all the dealers."
Jimmy and Haden Hurley also branched out, buying a small weekly, The Cooleemee Journal, in 1967, which led to future purchases of weeklies in Mocksville, Clemmons and China Grove.
Jimmy and Gerry Hurley never had children. Haden and his first wife, Doris, had two girls, Elizabeth and Anna; Gordon and his wife, Carolyn, had two boys, Gordon P. "Buck" Hurley Jr., now deceased, and James F. "Jeff" Hurley IV.
In 1974, the 78-year-old J.F. Hurley Jr. finally relinquished the title of publisher to Jimmy.
J.F. Hurley Jr. told his oldest son once that the job of publisher was simple: "You've got to try to sell a product people want to buy. You make the Post interesting and informative, and people will buy it. Then you've got to watch the money coming into this big bucket. Your job as publisher is to dole out some of that money. Just make damn sure more money comes in the bucket than you pay out."
The oldest son did well in keeping the equipment up to date, nurturing an award-winning newspaper, making the Post a strong presence and, not unlike his grandfather and father, seeing that the family gave back to the community.
Former Editor Steve Bouser spent years analyzing the family dynamic for which he worked.
"You had this dominant father and the three brothers, and they responded to this overwhelming presence in three distinct ways," Bouser said. "... Jimmy was the one who took it head on. As a result, he got to be publisher, but, I think, suffered unbelievable amounts of stress in taking the old man head on."
Jimmy Hurley remembered his own experience from the 1960s when his brothers said it was time to start endorsements in Jimmy's editorials.
"You're absolutely right," Jimmy said. "How do you like this one supporting Richardson Preyer?"
Haden and Gordon told Jimmy he was wrong. They liked I.B. Lake and reminded Jimmy that they had him outvoted two to one. All three brothers took their discussion to the second-floor office of their father, J.F. Hurley Jr., who seemed bored by the arguments. He finished the crossword puzzle and began tackling the bridge hand in that day's edition.
"You boys are wasting your time," he finally interrupted. "If the Post endorses anyone, it's going to be Dan K. Moore."
In 1975, Haden Hurley decided to leave Salisbury and the family newspaper for good. He ended up in Costa Rica, where he bought properties that included a hotel, bar and fern farm. He kept those business interests and moved to Naples, Fla., in 1978, coming home about once a year.
The Hurley family went through another transition in 1985 when Elizabeth Hurley died, followed by the passing in 1986 of The Chairman, J.F. Hurley Jr., who had continued coming to the Post daily until his death. He was just weeks shy of his 90th birthday.
The front-page story of The Chairman's death the next day described him as an unassuming man, who piloted the Post "to a position of envy among middle-sized newspapers in the state."
Under J.F. Hurley's leadership, the Post was the first newspaper to have its own engraving plant, one of the first to go into offset printing and still one of the few newspapers with a circulation exceeding the population of its hometown. J.F. Hurley was already working at the Post in 1924 when it became the smallest newspaper in the state to publish seven days a week.
"There will never be another James F. Hurley. In both his character and his impact on this newspaper and this town, he was unique. A giant has fallen. If the silence seems to hang so uncomfortably heavy in his office today, that's why."
The Post flourished through the 1980s and into the '90s under the leadership of Jimmy Hurley and, at times when Jimmy battled health problems, Gordon Hurley. Jimmy Hurley had major surgery in 1989 for throat cancer.
The Hurley brothers also made significant leadership and financial contributions to the community, buoyed by the success of personal investments.
"Once I got to where I had enough money to live off and set aside," Jimmy Hurley said once, "I just didn't need that much more money. It was fun to make it, but I really didn't want to spend it on myself."
Bouser, the one-time editor, watched in amazement as Jimmy Hurley ran the newspaper out of his back pocket -- literally. He carried a single sheet of paper in his back pocket that usually was coming apart at the seams from the times that he folded it and unfolded it. It was filled with columns and handwritten numbers that, from what Bouser could tell, were advertising revenues for the month.
"It was the seat-of-the-pants kind of deal," Bouser said. "No computers for him. But he had a real feel for it. He had a real feel for a lot of things. He always impressed me. He had a feel for what motivated people. Kind of like the art of the deal.
"I would want something and want it to happen, but he would understand the kind of quid pro quo there had to be -- how somebody would react to change that I would never think about. He said there were different kinds of managers and one of them is a political manager. He said he was a political manager, which meant it was all people, all diplomacy, not science."
Hurley earned induction into the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame in Chapel Hill April 7, 1991. At the banquet, he said he accepted the award "in the name of small, independent newspapers, for three generations of the Hurley family and on behalf of the hundreds of talented men and women who made the Salisbury Post a good newspaper for almost a century."
Several factors led to the end of the Hurleys' ownership of the Post. One was Haden Hurley's death from colon cancer in March 1996. After his arrival in Naples, Fla., to attend Haden's funeral service, Jimmy Hurley suffered a brain aneurysm, followed in the hospital by a mild stroke.
He fully recovered, but it took several months. Meanwhile, no one else in the family beyond Jimmy and Gordon seemed interested in the newspaper.
Jimmy Hurley walked through the Post plant on Dec. 13, 1996 -- Friday the 13th -- informing each department that the newspaper was going to be sold to Evening Post Publishing Co. of Charleston, S.C. The Post reported the pending sale the same day, and the legal transfer officially took place Jan. 31, 1997, in the Charlotte law offices of Robinson, Bradshaw and Hinson.
Learning of the sale, Salisbury preservationist Ed Clement said the Hurleys' contributions to Salisbury and Rowan County had been endless: "I don't know in the history of Salisbury another family who has done as much for the town," he said.
"The Hurleys have been true friends to those who work for them," a Post editorial said. "Ending that relationship brings a lot of sadness to the people at the Post."
After the sale, Jimmy and Gordon Hurley planted themselves across the street from the Post in an office from which they would handle their foundations and investments. They asked Liz Rankin to join them, making her executive vice president of Holmes Investment, the J.F. Hurley Foundation, Hurley-Trammell Foundation and the Elizabeth Holmes Hurley Park Foundation.
Gordon Hurley continued his major support of causes such as Rowan Regional Medical Center, YMCA, Salvation Army, Nazareth Children's Home, Historic Salisbury Foundation, the N.C. Transportation History Museum at Spencer Shops and Little League baseball. He funneled much of his money through the J.F. Hurley Foundation or the Salisbury Community Foundation.
Jimmy Hurley continued his keen interest in Catawba College, YMCA, Rufty-Holmes Senior Center and Elizabeth Holmes Hurley Park. He and wife Gerry expanded their Hurley-Trammell Foundation, which gave money to a long list of local causes. The family paid tribute to Haden Hurley by financing Haden's Carousel at Rowan County's Dan Nicholas Park.
Toward the end of January 1997, Jimmy traveled to Chapel Hill for one of his favorite nights of the year -- the N.C. Press Association awards.
The longest applause of the evening came when he walked across the stage to accept the first-place general excellence award on behalf of the newspaper.
The scene left many of the Post staffers on hand with lumps in their throats and tears in their eyes.
Much of this story is taken as excerpts from "A Family Affair," a book about the Hurleys and their ownership of the Salisbury Post, written in 1999 by Mark Wineka.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or email@example.com.