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Friday, February 14, 2014

The Passing of A Hartford Legend: Walter "Doc" Hurley

I was in the final stages of locating photos and creating an outline on one of the most famous Montford Marines when something appeared across my feed in a social media account. It was a tribute drawing from Bob Englehart, a political cartoonist from the Hartford Courant. The illustration read "Doc Hurley." I immediately was touched because my father used to play cards with Coach Walter "Doc" Hurley. Just last year we drove down Hurley's former street and my father pointed out the Tudor house that overlooked Keney Park. I discussed Doc Hurley's passing with my father and he reiterated how his late older brother Jay used to play football as an undergrad against Hurley on an opposing HBCU team. Both men were extremely tall and a long lasting friendship occurred between two giants whose statures alone did not define them. My late Uncle Jay would see Doc Hurley when he came to visit us in Connecticut.

"I didn't know he was a Marine," I said. Dozens of news sources plus a book stated he served in the Pacific during the 1940s as a Marine. As this blog's loyal readers already know, that would automatically make him a Montford Point Marine, since Montford Point was where all African American Marines were trained at the Camp Lejeune facility prior to desegregation. Thus, with supporting documentation, Doc Hurley should receive a Medal of Honor posthumously.

Source: Hartford Courant

Walter "Doc" Hurley- 1922-2014

Walter "Doc" Hurley was an educator, school administer and basketball coach. He was born in Albany, Georgia and moved to Hartford, CT where he was a four sport star athlete. Hurley graduated from Weaver High School in 1941 and served in the Marines. He attended Virginia State University and spent his summers in Hartford as a supervisor in a parks and recreation program. Hurley was a towering, commanding man with the "intense stare" and booming voice. Some of his young men that Hurley coached even made it to the NBA; they later reflected in a 2006 article from the Hartford Courant on the influence that Doc Hurley had:

In those days you didn't call them mentor, but that's what he was. He was the largest person I had ever seen. He was larger than life to me, and in a way still is."

Hurley played Professional football in the 1940s with the All American Football Conference Brooklyn Dodgers. He was a winning high school track and football coach and a noted basketball official in Virginia. He also began his teaching career there. Despite Hurley's successful reputation, when there was a basketball coach vacancy at Hurley's alma mata, Weaver High School, Hurley was passed over. Hartford simply was not ready for a Black coach at the time. Even today, headlines are still made when an African American is made a collegiate or professional sports coach. Said Hurley, "it stung" and according to the article Hurley "never got over it." (Hartford Courant)

Doc Hurley in 1940
Image via

It was Doc Hurley that calmed some 500 Weaver High School students down on April 4, 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Doc Hurley wasn't a teacher at Weaver, but he was summoned from his physical education job at an elementary school to prevent frustrated students from protesting. Hurley arrived and gathered the football team, since he knew many of them as kids by name, along with leaders of street gangs to diffuse the potentially violent situation. His quick-thinking paid off as Weaver High School remained unscathed while Hartford's North End was ravaged by riots for months. He asked the question, "Where are you going to get educated if you burn down the school?" Now that's power. (Hartford Courant)

The educator went on to become an assistant principal at Weaver High School and set up the Doc Hurley Basketball Tournament in 1975. Over a half million dollars in college scholarships have been given out over the years with the criteria based on academics, an essay and financial need.

"There are hundreds of people from throughout the Hartford area whose lives were transformed because of the higher education opportunities that Doc Hurley brought to their lives over the past several decades," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday. "He was one of the most passionate voices for Hartford and its residents, respected by all, and brought such positive energy to generations of residents. He truly is a Hartford legend and is proof that one person can make a lasting, positive impact." Hartford Courant

Unfortunately, great things can become temporarily tarnished. State officials allege that his daughter misused college funds for her own personal use. A new scholarship fund has been established through the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, called the Walter Doc Hurley Scholarship Fund for Greater Hartford. Flags were flown at half mast under the direction of Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, and the girls and boys Weaver High School Baskeball teams are dedicating the rest of their season in Doc Hurley's honor. They will be wearing jerseys with Doc Hurley's name on them. (Hartford Courant)

 And how did Walter Doc Hurley get the moniker "Doc?" His father wanted him to grow up to become a doctor so that he could be successful. I think this Marine did remarkably well, don't you? Do you know any educators like him? Would it be awesome to Hurley's legacy if he is honored with a Congressional Award posthumously?

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Hartford Courant file photo.

Hartford Courant

See Also:
A Montford Point Marine and Tuskegee Airmen in One Immediate Family
Connecticut: The Land of Steady Habits


* Gwen Hurley, the wife of Doc Hurley, preceded her husband in death in 2005. She taught at Mark Twain Elementary for many years and also had a lasting impact on young people and the Hartford community. My friend Pat, an administrator, would speak fondly of Mrs. Hurley and her sayings.

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