When Walter "Doc" Hurley returned to Hartford in 1959 after a successful stint as a teacher and basketball coach in Portsmouth, Va., he hoped to become a basketball coach at his alma mater, Weaver High School, where he'd been a star in four sports two decades earlier. But Weaver wasn't ready for a black coach.
It hurt the big man, as discrimination will, but he persevered. He coached or directed athletics at grammar schools, in summer programs and at the old Wethersfield Prison. When he helped cool down an angry group of 500 Weaver kids the day Martin Luther King was shot in 1968, school officials finally glimpsed the depth and talent of the man. He was made an assistant principal of Weaver shortly thereafter.
Mr. Hurley, who died Monday at 91, used his position to steer kids away from gangs and toward college. Retired Hartford Fire Chief Charles Teale had actually dropped out of school, but Mr. Hurley steered him back. Mr. Teale, who would go on to get bachelor's and master's degrees, called Mr. Hurley Hartford's "greatest citizen."
Mr. Hurley stayed at Weaver until he retired in 1983. The school's fieldhouse was named for him the following year. He pushed whenever he could for investment in early childhood and elementary education so that youngsters were ready for high school and then for college.
Mr. Hurley was well aware how difficult it was for many Hartford families to send their children to college, so in the 1970s he began raising money for scholarships, helping hundreds of youngsters over the years. It thus was terribly sad when state officials brought suit against Mr. Hurley's daughter Muriel for allegedly looting the Doc Hurley Scholarship Foundation after becoming its executive director in 2001. The state has initiated action to dissolve the foundation.
But Mr. Hurley's good name and priceless legacy as a citizen of Hartford will be remembered with a scholarship in his name to be administered by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
It is hard to imagine Hartford without Doc Hurley.