A TRIBUTE TO A GREAT MAN
Walter “Doc” Hurley was a “Renaissance Man”. He was a sports star who turned his love of education into a life of inspiration. “Doc” was an inspiration to generations of young people and a calming influence in the nation’s time of civil rights crisis. He was a benefactor and a friend to all, with a broad smile that immediately put even strangers at ease, making them feel like close acquaintances, and a pair of oversized ham hocks of hands that made even the most troubled soul feel comfort in his embrace. More often than not those hands were reaching out to help a fellow human being, particularly young people in need of direction and a means of following that direction.
In the late 1930’s, as a basketball star at Weaver High School, the only African American player on a team that played many of it’s games against suburban teams, “Doc” was no stranger to the slings and arrows of the ugly racism of the era. A decade before Jackie Robinson it fell on “Doc” to ignore the vicious taunts and the ugly demeaning name calling for the sake of social dignity. After graduating from Weaver “Doc” attended Virginia State University, but he didn’t graduate until after serving with the Marines in the Pacific during World War II.
He went on to play professional football in the old All American Football League and went into a teaching career in Virginia before returning to Hartford in 1959. “Doc” was married to the love of his life, Gwendolyn, for 56 years, until her death in 2002, and they had three children. Children would always be a centerpiece of “Doc’s” life. He could never do enough for young people. It became his life’s mission to smooth their road to adulthood.
In 1968 “Doc” took on legendary status in Hartford when, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, he calmed hundreds of students, creating at Weaver High School a safe haven from the ensuing rioting that would engulf the nation and hit as close to home as many of the surrounding neighborhoods.
A vice principal at Weaver, in the mid 70’s “Doc” took a giant step, one with which he would be associated for the rest of his life, when he arranged a basketball game between his alma mater and Central Connecticut and combined it with a high school basketball game featuring Weaver. All gate proceeds went to provide a small scholarship for one student. The mission to do more became an obsession with “Doc” and when the NCAA ruled against college-high school double headers his “little” tournament became an all high school event, growing into the most prestigious in-season high school tournament in the state, earning money for more scholarships.
The corporate community took up the mantle and over the years hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised and as many as 50 scholarships a year were being given out, some of them renewable with a value of $10,000. Hundreds of kids were not only helped along their educational path by “Doc” Hurley, it was his inspiration that led them there. To generations of young people in Connecticut his is a name that needs no explanation.
“Doc” Hurley passed away on Sunday at age 89. He was many things to many people, as I said, a “Renaissance Man”, but more than any of those things, “Doc” Hurley was just a great man.
With a tribute to a dear, dear friend, I’m Scott Gray.