He Died Peacefully At His Home; Family Members Were With Him
Greeneville Sun Columnist Bob Hurley, whose writing over a period of more than four decades has made him one of the community's best-known figures, died Monday evening at his home here, a little less than two weeks after discovering that he was suffering from advanced esophageal cancer.
Hurley, 69, learned of the cancer earlier this month, and subsequently found that it could not be treated.
His son, Dr. Jonas Hurley, of Springfield, Ky., said Monday night that his father died peacefully at his home on Poor Farm Road at about 9:15 p.m.
With him, in addition to his son, were his wife of 47 years, Marilda Moore Hurley; his sister, Geraldine Hurley Culberson, of the Mohawk Community; and his brother, Sam Hurley, also of the Mohawk Community.
Bob Hurley had been in severely declining health for the last few weeks but continued to write his popular twice-weekly personal column through Friday, Dec. 27, and Saturday, Dec. 28.
Dr. Hurley said that his father developed a persistent cough, which was found about two weeks ago to be esophageal cancer that had spread widely and was essentially untreatable.
He had been under hospice care, together with the care of family members, at his home since Friday of last week.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time and will be announced by Kiser-Rose Hill Funeral Home.
JOINED SUN IN 1967
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, where his Greene County parents had moved to find work, Bob Hurley returned to the family's home community of Mohawk when he was only two years old, and he grew up in a farm family in that community.
After four years of service in the U.S. Navy following graduation from what was then McDonald High School, he came to work at The Greeneville Sun as a linotypist on Monday, Feb. 6, 1967.
Before long, his interest and ability in writing were noticed, however, and he began covering North Greene High School's then-new football program.
From there he began covering the Greeneville Police Department and the Greene County Sheriff's Department, and for a period of years he served as City Editor of the Sun under then-Executive Editor Ken Hood Jr.
But it became clear over those years that his heart, his greatest professional interest, and his special gift lay in researching and writing feature stories about Greene County and its people, and illustrating his articles with stunning black-and-white photography.
HUMAN-INTEREST COLUMNS HIS SPECIALTY
Hurley became well known to Sun readers first in the late 1960s, when the newspaper launched what was called the Sun Week-Ender: a Saturday tabloid section with four pages devoted to a single feature story and accompanying photos by various members of the Sun news staff.
He wrote many Week-Ender articles during the late 1960s and the 1970s, including numerous features about the county's small rural communities.
About 1980, his feature articles began to take the form of personal columns -- with the byline title "Columnist" -- focusing on two main subjects:
* the same sorts of interesting, little-known aspects of Greene County history and the county's way of life, and
* admirable but relatively-unknown citizens of the county, especially those who lived in the county's rural areas.
Over the next 30 years or so, his warm-hearted, never-predictable human-interest stories and personal columns became one of the Sun's most popular features, and, in the process, made Hurley one of the county's best-known citizens.
He also wrote frequently about neighboring Madison County, N.C., and its people, for whom he had deep respect and affection.
HONORED FOR EXCELLENCE
On several occasions over the years, columns he had written received first-place recognition in state newspaper contests sponsored by the Tennessee Press Association (TPA) and the Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors (TAPME).
The TPA is the trade association of the Tennessee newspaper industry. The TAPME, now the Tennessee Associated Press News Editors, consists of the newspapers in the state of all circulation categories which are members of the Associated Press.
He was particularly proud in 1992 when a poignant column he wrote entitled "The Court Where Dreams Come To Die" took first place the Tennessee Press Association's "Best Personal Column" category -- in competition open to all other daily newspapers in Tennessee, including those from Knoxville, Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis.
In 1998, he received the prestigious Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Reporting in the Sun's circulation category.
The award was presented for a May 1997 column in which Hurley brought to light the World War I record of the late Calvin Ward.
Through months of research, the Greeneville columnist found that Ward, a native of western Greene County, had received not only the Medal of Honor -- the nation's highest award for heroism -- but also more military decorations than even famed Tennessee World War I soldier Alvin C. York.
RESPECTED AGRICULTURE JOURNALIST
Reared on a small farm at Mohawk, Hurley was also one of the state's best-known and most respected agriculture journalists -- even though he preferred to be known as a "columnist" rather than by the more formal professional term "journalist."
For decades he covered the annual burley tobacco market in Greeneville between Thanksgiving and Christmas, at a period when this community was the leading burley tobacco market in Tennessee.
For more than 20 years he has planned, researched, written and photographed the Agriculture section of the Sun's annual Benchmarks edition, as well as the Tennessee Greene section (formerly Farming for Profit), and the June Dairy section.
In recognition of the excellence of his coverage of agriculture, especially in Greene County, in December 2000 he became the recipient of the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation's first-ever Distinguished Service by Agriculture Media award.
The award was presented in Nashville by then-TFBF President Flavius Barker and Federation Director of Communications Pettus L. Read on the opening night of the Federation's 79th Annual Meeting.
'HAS REPORTED THE TRUE STORY'
In presenting the award, Read paid tribute to both the breadth and the reliability of Hurley's agriculture reporting.
"In today's fast-paced age of communications," Read said, "we often feel that farmers are left out when stories are written by local media. ...
"However, in Greene County the agricultural community is fortunate to have a reporter who knows the farming news beat.
"Whether it concerns markets, tobacco, livestock, apple trees, or the contributions given back to the community by 100-plus-years-old Miss Ethel Saville (now deceased), Bob Hurley is an individual who has reported the true story about our industry.
"His facts are correct, and his story and photos are interesting to all who read his articles in The Greeneville Sun.
"This year is the first year we have recognized an individual media representative who has gone the extra mile for agriculture.
"And what could be more fitting than to select Bob Hurley of The Greeneville Sun for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation Distinguished Service by Agriculture Media award?
"It is my honor to make this presentation."
In addition to his other responsibilities, Hurley has served as editor of the Sun's Faith section for decades.
HONORED WITH AUSTIN AWARD
His outstanding contribution to the entire community though his reporting and writing over more than four decades was recognized in November 2013 through his selection as the recipient of the Robert C. Austin Award for Distinguished Service to Community, one of Greeneville/Greene County's most prestigious civic honors.
The award, presented annually by the Agribusiness Committee of the Greene County Partnership, is named in honor of the late Robert C. Austin, a Greeneville industrialist, businessman and highly-respected community leader for most of the last half of the 20th century.
The name of the annual recipient is a closely-guarded secret until the award is actually announced at an annual dinner held at the Clyde B. Austin 4-H Training Center.
The award was presented in November on behalf of the committee by Steve Hale, a retired University of Tennessee Greene County Extension Director.
In announcing the award to Hurley -- who did not know he was to receive the honor and was himself covering the event for the newspaper, as was his usual procedure -- Hale cited the Sun columnist's many years of writing about rural life in and around Greene County.
"He has made newcomers feel welcome while educating them about our people, our places, and our culture here, sharing insights they might never have learned otherwise," Hale said.
STATEMENT BY JONES
John M. Jones Jr., editor of the Sun and a colleague and friend of Hurley since the late 1960s, made the following statement today on behalf of himself, the other members of the John M. Jones family, which owns the Sun, and the newspaper staff:
"It is beyond my ability adequately to express the painful shock and sadness with which we at The Greeneville Sun learned about two weeks ago of Bob Hurley's very serious illness.
"Like so many others, we found it almost impossible to believe, and we did not want to believe it.
"Bob has been both our much-admired colleague and our well-loved friend, and our grief at his passing is profound.
"His contribution not only to the Sun but also to the entire county through his writing has been extremely significant in helping put 'on the record' in words and pictures the rich and many-faceted story of the life of Greene County and its people in the 20th century and well into the 21st.
"We are very proud and glad to have had the pleasure and honor of working closely with him for these 47 good years. We will miss him terribly.
"We join with his many, many other friends and admirers in our gratitude for his life, and our deep sympathy for his family in their loss."