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An Honorable Man

Our columnist pays tribute to a public servant who helped shape her life's work.

by J. Morton Galetto, CU Maurice River

I’m writing this a week after the passing of a great man, mentor, and friend. (By time you read this, it will be closer to three weeks.) In fact, I would say his actions likely enabled me to define my life’s work. That man is the Honorable Senator James “Jim” Hurley.

In the mid-’80s, as commodore of the Union Lake Sailing and Tennis Club, I testified for the maintenance and rebuilding of the Union Lake Dam and spillway and the creation of a Wildlife Management Area. Jim gave me the confidence and support to speak. Had things gone differently, anglers, boaters, and sailors would not have a lake nor would the public and wildlife have access to this preserved habitat to utilize and enjoy.

I believe I’ve known Jim since I was 10 years old. At that point he would have been 34 and he would already have been a freeholder. I didn’t even know what a freeholder was, but I knew Jim. Everyone knew Jim, and I never heard people say anything but nice things about him and his wife Wally. Jim was also a well-respected senator. You can read about his career using this link to the New Jersey Globe:

In 1988 I asked Jim if he would suggest, to the Governor and Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, that I be placed on the Endangered and Nongame Species Advisory Committee. He asked me why I wanted to serve, and then he listened. He said he would be happy to support my quest.

Ultimately, I was selected as a committee member representing a nonprofit organization. I have enjoyed my service since 1988, and for 18 of those years I served as chair. Soon I will be retired from the Committee, because a number of years ago the Committee jointly decided it would be wise to institute term limits. However, this position has taught me a great deal and has been a tremendous source of personal interest and satisfaction. My life’s chosen path has not always been simple, but it has been rewarding, and Jim helped me significantly along the way.

My story is important because I’m the rule and not the exception—Jim was a public servant who served his community and not himself. He was a listener who put his service, family, and faith first. This is not glib rhetoric; Jim was the real deal—genuine.

Despite our long friendship and the fact that Jim and Wally were members of CU, I could not know every wonderful detail about Jim’s life. At just about every funeral service I attend, I aways learn things about the departed that I didn’t already know. I learned that Jim was an alumnus of the University of North Carolina and a major sports fan, especially of basketball. In fact, his daughter Leslie did a Tar Heel cheer in his honor at his memorial service.

He was a man surrounded by his women, a wife and three daughters. Leslie described them as the “crying family.” I knew that both Leslie and Wally would cry about anything sentimental, sad or happy. In fact, when my husband Peter gave Wally a vase that he had created, Jim teased, “Now she is going to cry.” And he was right. I didn’t realize that Jim was a crier too, but I did know he was very compassionate.

There are lots of things I did know. He was a wildlife watcher, liked candlelight dinners, and enjoyed looking sharp. He was always finding projects for his daughter Leslie. I think a number of these undertakings derived from Wally’s deeds and counsel. At Easter they distributed homemade chocolate eggs. I’m not sure when Irish potato candies were distributed—St. Patrick’s Day, I suppose. I just remember enjoying them.

Jim’s life revolved around family. Every day he made breakfast in bed for Wally, his wife of 70 years. She passed away eight months before him. They were an extraordinary loving couple who shared everything together, from the office to play.

Robert Friant, who Jim mentored and became a close confidant, shared stories about their long friendship. He praised Jim’s ability to listen and to be compassionate, patient, and gracious, and related that he respected others and showed them dignity.

I never saw or heard Jim say anything that was not mannerly. He could tease, but was never hurtful.

Above all else Jim valued his family. Friant relayed that Jim considered them to be his greatest legacy. He is survived by three daughters: Leslie Hurley (Robert Hamilton) of Millville, Jamie Weitzel (Paul) of Philadelphia, and Kerri Fox (David) of Randolph; seven grandchildren: Emily Kimble (Ian), Xan Zimatore (Joe), Hurley Fox (Brittin), Mack Fox (Jenny), Paris, Nico and Zeke Fox, and two great grandchildren, Leo and Frankie Zimatore. Indeed a fine legacy.

Our condolences go out to all of them on the loss of a great dad, father-in-law, grandfather and great-grandfather.

I speak for many when I say that my life is enriched by having known Jim and Wally.