A Tribute to Charley Hurt
By Jane Baber White
*Please click on each photo to enlarge it*
For those who love and enjoy the Old City Cemetery, few have any idea that the skills, talent, and expertise of Charley Hurt were so instrumental in what the place is today. Charley died January 30, 2016, at age 84. His cremains are in a columbarium niche in the Old City Cemetery Chapel, a space that he helped design.
In fact, most everything in the Cemetery was touched by Charley in some way. He was a member of the Southern Memorial Association Board of Directors during the time many of the museum buildings were being conceived, moved, designed, or constructed. Charley was our engineer. He and his dear friend Parks Snead, Jr., were an inseparable pair who worked together tirelessly on each project. Parks designed and re-designed, and Charley eventually put his engineering stamp of approval on each building. They were affectionately called (by me) “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.” They were a talented pair and completely dedicated to the Cemetery as it evolved in those early years. What you see and enjoy today is a result of their vision.
But Charley was so much more than an engineering “stamp of approval.” He was fun to be around and contributed to the camaraderie of the working band of friends who shared the dream of what the place could become. Charley loved to tell stories; sometimes he told the same ones over and over! We didn’t care. He also loved to surprise us in the office with cookies or other treats left on our desks.
Charley had lots of friends and he made contacts for us. When it was time to dedicate the Hearse House and Caretakers Museum, Charley got his friend Dr. William McCabe to bring his matched pair of black horses to pull our antique hearse. Charley himself dressed as if he were local undertaker George Diuguid and went around measuring the guests present to be sure they would fit their made-to-order coffins.
In the mid-1990s Charley participated in a day-long workshop with a professional conservator who had been brought in as an expert in Cemetery restoration, documentation, and tombstone repair. In that case, he preferred to preside over the outdoor instructional sessions sitting on an upside down bucket, rather than actually performing hands-on work. Again, we didn’t care. He had absorbed the information the conservator taught and continued to guide us in professional techniques that are the principles of the work that continues today.
At his funeral, Charley’s grandsons summed him up so well: “humility, kindness, respect…and always a good joke.” As for learning life’s lessons, just “put another tool in your toolbox.” What a blessing to claim him as our Cemetery friend.