OCEAN CITY — The resort community lost a gem this week with the passing of George Hurley, who not only recorded generations of Ocean City history, but created it and lived it.
Hurley passed away at his home on Sunday at the age of 80. He was born and raised in Ocean City, attended the old Ocean City High School in the same building where he would later serve as a councilman and council president and was a member of the school’s state championship basketball team. Hurley left his fingerprints all over Ocean City, from his time on the City Council when he helped shepherd the resort through a major growth spurt while retaining its old school charm to his major role in the fledgling beach replenishment project.
Hurley was a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Korean War, a teacher at Stephen Decatur High School and the owner and operator of the Hurley Construction Company for many years. He was also a member of the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company, the Ocean City Lions Club and the Atlantic Methodist Church and was also a Little League coach and a member of the Boy Scouts.
Despite wearing those many hats, Hurley might likely be remembered as Ocean City’s de facto historian. He and his wife Suzanne were instrumental in moving the old Life Saving Station on Caroline Street to the end of the Boardwalk where it stands now as a museum and Ocean City’s scaled down version of the Smithsonian. Hurley and his wife Suzanne co-authored several books including “A Pictorial History of Ocean City,” and whenever a question arose about the history of this old building or that storm, area residents knew Hurley would have the answers.
Hurley will likely be remembered for his influential stint on the City Council and later the Worcester County Commissioners. His daughter Daphne said this week his time on the council marked an era of great change in Ocean City.
“Ocean City really did open on Memorial Day and close on Labor Day,” she said. “When my dad was serving on the council in the 1980s, they really were the formative years for Ocean City and a lot was changing. The council at that time was pretty tumultuous, but he was always on an even keel and voice of reason. He was a steadying influence on that council.”
Daphne Hurley recalled her father’s passion for reading, travel and history, especially anything and everything to do with Ocean City.
“He was truly an historian,” she said. “It all began with ‘Ocean City-a Pictorial History.’ That was their first book and it really grew from there. He knew everything there was to know about the history of Ocean City.”
Not only did he figuratively lead the effort to save the Lifesaving Museum, he also physically moved the old building down the beach to its current location at the foot of the Boardwalk.
“With his construction background, he physically moved the Life Saving Museum down the beach to where it is on the end of the Boardwalk,” said Daphne Hurley. “It was just an ill-used, abandoned structure on Caroline Street but they recognized its value and that it had a lot of life left in it, so a group of concerned citizens moved it down to the end of the Boardwalk and it became the museum.”
The museum quickly became a clearinghouse for Ocean City history and local residents shared their pictures, artifacts and other pieces of resort history that found a home in the new museum.
“Everyone wanted George and Suzanne to have their stuff,” she said. “They brought them their shared keepsakes and memories and the museum started to take on a life of its own. His knowledge of Ocean City was so vast. That’s what comes from staying in one place for so long. Mom and Dad didn’t just record the history, they lived it. They really gave me the love of reading and traveling that I have today.”
Like Hurley, former Mayor Roland “Fish” Powell was born and raised in Ocean City and the pair knew each other as young children before later becoming the leaders of the resort.
“I knew George since the beginning when he was just a little boy,” he said. “We became fast friends and we had a lot of fun together. Later, he served on the council and became council president and County Commission president and he always had Ocean City’s best interest at heart and always got the job done. They don’t make them like George anymore.”
Powell agreed Hurley was a calming influence on a volatile council at the time.
“He would listen, offer his feelings and treat every issue with a lot of common sense,” he said. “He certainly was an asset in everything he was involved in, and it was a lot from the council to the County Commissioners to the various boards and organizations to the fire department. He was truly an asset and he will be sorely missed.”
Local attorney Joe Moore, also born and raised in the area, recalled some of his earliest cases in the resort with Hurley in the president’s chair.
“In my earlier years when I was handling conditional uses and zoning cases in front of the council, I always remember he was an absolute gentleman,” he said. “I was probably bungling presentations and making cases and he was always unfailingly courteous.”
Like Hurley, Moore is another de facto historian of Berlin, Ocean City and Worcester County and the two shared several mutual interests. A few years back, Moore published “Murder on the Eastern Shore” about the infamous Orphan Jones murder case in Worcester, and it was the already published Hurley who helped him through the process.
“As time went by, we realized we shared a mutual love for history and books,” he said. “George was tremendously supportive when my book came out and one of the most successful signings was at the Lifesaving Museum. Just recently, he brought me a John Steinbeck book that I probably read in college. I started it but haven’t picked it back up and I never had the chance to tell him I hadn’t finished it.”
Moore said Hurley’s expertise in the construction field helped the attorney with several real estate cases.
“George helped me more than I can say in matters involving rehabbing or restoring properties,” he said. “He was meticulous in his construction work.”
Moore said Hurley applied his vast knowledge of Ocean City in his work on the council during a dynamic time in the resort.
“He was always very aware of the history of Ocean City, and honestly, he was a big part of that history,” he said. “The time he served on the council was a very formative time for Ocean City. That was when High Rise Row was taking shape and Ocean City was expanding north.”
The Town of Ocean City is flying its flags at half-mast this week and will continue to do so until sunset on Friday. Mayor Rick Meehan spoke fondly of Hurley during this week’s council meeting.
“I had the privilege and the honor of serving with George Hurley when I was first elected to the council,” he said. “George was a great supporter of Ocean City. I learned a lot from George Hurley. When I was first elected to the council, the town was a lot smaller then it is today. It was beginning to develop and expand its boundaries and population.”
Meehan said Hurley was in tune with his constituents and advocated on their behalf while serving on the council.
“At the time I was elected, George lived in the downtown area and he personally knew the name of every person that lived south of 15th Street and he brought up the names of those individuals many times during the meetings when we talked about certain areas of the town,” said Meehan. “He represented them very well.”
Meehan said Hurley was instrumental in fostering the relationships and partnerships that ultimately led to beach replenishment.
“He also help build consensus among the new arrivals to our community as the north end of town was being developed,” he said. “He served as council president during a very important year as we developed and played a major role, along with Mayor Fish Powell and the council to be able to secure and enter into the beach replenishment project, which is probably one of the most important projects that we have entered into in the last 30 years and that project will most likely continue as long as Ocean City is here.”
Meehan also recognized the Hurleys’ roles as the town’s historians.
“He and his wife Suzanne have written a few books about Ocean City and many of us have seen those over time, and probably purchased those to give to family members and other people that also love Ocean City,” he said. “George did a great job serving on the police commission, and he was a strong proponent of the Ocean City airport. He understood the importance of the airport. He also played a major role in establishing the Life Saving Museum where it is today. George was a great family man and a dear friend, and I hold him in very high regards as I know all of the citizens of Ocean City do.”
Another former Ocean City mayor, now Senator Jim Mathias, also fondly recalled the former council president this week.
“George Hurley was a great friend to say the least,” he said. “He was a true inspiration for me as a started out in public service. George was steady, open-minded, fair and objective and he got things done. When I got called to public service, I wanted to be like George.”
Mathias said he hoped the next generation of leadership for Ocean City would emulate Hurley’s legacy.
“When young people are called to public service, I hope they can find inspiration in George,” he said. “I know I did. My hope is that God continues to bless Ocean City with leaders like George.”
Like so many others this week, Mathias recalled Hurley’s reverence for history and his place in it.
“When you look at his service in the Korean War, and his service as a teacher and his leadership in Ocean City and Worcester County where he was instrumental in things like beach replenishment, the Convention Center, Atlantic General Hospital and on and on, his history, Ocean City history and our country’s history are all embodied in one person,” he said.
Mathias fondly recalled weekly dinners at the Captain’s Table in the old Santa Maria where the town’s leadership could often be found including Powell, Hurley and others. He also related an amusing story of Hurley the pilot flying a small entourage from Ocean City to Baltimore for an Oriole game several decades ago.
“George and Fish and someone else I don’t recall now were going to an Oriole game and George was going to fly them and they invited me,” he said. “The four of us get out to the Ocean City Airport and there is this little plane that looks like a sports car with wings. We had to push it out of the hangar and I’m thinking how are the four of us going to fly to Baltimore in this. Then, the battery wouldn’t start, so he brings a car over and jumpstarts it with jumper cables and off we go. We get to Baltimore and go to the game, and when we get back to the airport and it’s now dark, the plane’s battery held the charge, but half the lights didn’t work. I was praying the whole way, but we made it home safely.”
A funeral service will be held on Friday, Aug. 14, at 2 p.m. at the Burbage Funeral Home in Berlin. Rev. Dr. Olin Shockley will officiate. Friends may call one hour prior to the service. Interment will be private for the family. In lieu of flowers, a donation in his memory may be made to the Ocean City Life Saving Museum, P.O. Box 603, Ocean City, Md. 21843.
Letters of condolence may be sent via: www.burbagefuneralhome.com