James “Jim” Hurley broke barriers throughout his life, whether he was in school hallways, on basketball courts or in business meetings.
He succeeded as a Black man at a time of widespread segregation and inequality, when he was often one of only a few people of color in the room.
Though he boasted many accomplishments, loved ones and colleagues said what made Hurley special was his genuine interest in others and his capacity to help in any way he could.
“Jim lived a life of purpose to make sure every interaction he had he represented himself well. … He wanted to make a difference and he did make a difference,” said friend Beverly A. Grant.
Hurley, who called both Scottsdale, Ariz., and Minnetonka home, passed away on Feb. 14. He was 76.
Hurley was born Aug. 6, 1945, the youngest of five children. He grew up in the city of Paris, Ky., which at the time was heavily segregated. During his senior year, Hurley was one of a few Black students who integrated Bourbon County High School.
Hurley excelled in basketball throughout high school and college. He attended the University of Cincinnati in his freshman year and later transferred to Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., where he was mentored by esteemed coach C.M. Newton, who supported the integration of the basketball program. But that didn’t mean that Hurley and the team weren’t met with hardships.
There had been times when the team traveled in the segregated South that Hurley wouldn’t be allowed in some establishments, said his wife, Alison Hurley. While it was a difficult position to put himself in, he was determined, she said.
“At the time, I think he believed that that was the right thing to do,” Alison Hurley said.
Jim Hurley went on to be named the team’s most valuable player and top scorer for three years. He was also selected by Transylvania’s student body as Mr. Pioneer in 1969 and 30 years later he was inducted into the school’s Pioneer Hall of Fame.
After graduation, Hurley got an interim job in sales at Procter & Gamble, but when he was ultimately offered a chance to play basketball professionally, Hurley weighed his options and decided to stay at P&G.
Hurley determined he could make more of a difference in the long run by staying in business, said Grant, who would later be mentored by Hurley at P&G.
“Jim was focused on the greater good,” she said.
Hurley would work at P&G for 33 years, relocating several times among Cincinnati, Minnesota and California. During his time at P&G, Hurley received several awards, including a lifetime achievement recognition. A lot of the senior roles he obtained, Hurley would be one of the first people of color to reach that position, and he was intentional about mentoring others.
“Jim stuck with me through thick and thin, and I knew he would do that for a number of people,” said Grant, who said she regarded Hurley as a big brother.
After he retired in 2003, Hurley didn’t stop advocating for others, including helping with groups such as the Inroads internship program. He also joined the board of KIPP Minnesota Public Schools. Hurley often stopped to talk with teachers and students in the halls, said Alison Ford, vice president of external affairs for KIPP and a family friend.
“He’s just a kind, genuinely authentic people person,” Ford said. “When you talk to Jim, you are the only person in the room.”
In his free time, Hurley enjoyed sports such as golf and up until a few years ago would still take 100 basketball shots a day as part of his regular drills. He also liked to travel to see family and he helped plan large family reunions.
Hurley is survived by his wife of 21 years, Alison; children, Jeffrey Jones, James Hurley Jr., Daina Coons and Timothy Hurley; and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be held at Washburn-McReavy Edina Chapel in Edina on March 4 and 5. Some of the services will be streamed online.