Saying Goodbye to Mr. Hurt

On the evening of August 15, 2018, many people filed into the Crozet Baptist Church that started to visit with Mr. Benjamin Hurt’s family and to mourn his passing. Long before the scheduled start time, people were lined around the wall of the church sanctuary, and they were beginning to sit people in pews to wait for the end of the line to reach them.

Mr. Hurt's son J.B. and his wife Diane were standing near the open coffin where Mr. Benjamin Hurt lay. Mr. Hurt's grandchildren, Sophie and Benjamin, were nearby and, just like their grandad, they were happy to talk and showed interest in the proceedings.

As I looked at Mr. Hurt, I realized that it was the first time I had ever seen him when his eyes were not open and interested in what he before him.

In this writer’s opinion, it seemed that everyone was remembering a man that brought nothing but happiness to so many. As people reached J.B. and Diane, personal memories and stories were shared by almost everyone. The atmosphere was more like a celebration of life rather than a visitation.

The line stayed long throughout the evening and people were still arriving late into the allotted time.

For Thursday’s ceremony, I arrived 45 minutes early with the other pallbearers the parking lot was already a third full. I was proud to join two other Albemarle High School graduates, Leonard Sandridge, Paul Cale, Jr. as pallbearers, and Mr. Hurt's longtime friend and elementary school principal Tom Hurlbert was an honorary pallbearer.

The Celebration of Life service began at 11:00 with Words of Grace and the reading of Psalm 1, verses 1 - 3 by Rev. Tracey Pugh, followed by greeting and prayer by Rev, David Collyer. Pastor Collyer let us know the songs and scriptures during the service were some of Mr. Hurt’s favorites. We sang To God Be the Glory and Pastor Collyer read John 14 verse 1-6 and 27.

J.B. Hurt started the Public Remembrance and told us some things we did not know about Mr. Hurt. He said that his Dad not only loved meeting people but also wanted to know them. He told of the evening they went to dinner with his Mom and Dad. While there, a couple walked up as if he was an old friend. J.B. was expecting his Dad to name one or both of them and recite their class year and name their relatives as he had done thousands of times. But no, Mr. Hurt told everyone how they met the couple at Jiffy Lube that same day.

He remembered that his Dad loved to play with kids. He would be watering in the front lawn and squirt water on kids riding by on bicycles. He was a man of humble tastes. If you asked him where he wanted to go to eat, his answer was more likely to be a McDonalds for a Big Mac than a fancy restaurant and he loved coconut cream pie.

J.B. ended with by noting that the story was not over. His Dad now has a new audience to meet and teach, and he will.

Many other people touched in different ways remembered Mr. Hurt. A representative of the Crozet Lions Club referred to Mr. Hurt as “Lion Ben”. Lion Ben was a member seventy out of the eighty years the organization has been in existence. He never missed a meeting during a stretch that lasted decades. Lion Ben was honored nationally two times with the Melvin Jones Award.

The AHS Class of 1973 president talked about how she and Mr. Hurt started on different sides, but became friends and worked together for improvements. A black graduate from 1974 talked of how well Mr. Hurt handled integration, and how much respect he had for him. Paul Cale, Jr., a member of the Class of 1966 and the son of the man who, as Superintendent of Schools, appointed Mr. Hurt to be the AHS principal, told us how close the Hurt and the Cale families were. Mr. and Mrs. Hurt babysat the younger Paul from time to time, and Paul noted that they had always said they “practiced on him” before J.B. arrived.

Someone made the statement, Ben Hurt knew when to react and when to ignore. Alvin Watson, AHS Class of 1958, said he has never known a person like Mr. Hurt. An AHS Health and Physical Education teacher in her first year was teaching health to a boys class and identifying human body parts. It was implied they were sexual body parts. She looked up and Mr. Hurt was standing in the doorway. She wondered if she would have a job the next day. Later in the day she saw Mr. Hurt and explained what she was doing. Mr. Hurt said, Oh that is what you were doing" as if he didn't know.

Every attendee had stories to tell if there had been time, and I am no exception. Some things I remember most were things I heard Mr. Hurt talk about over the years. Everyone marvels at his ability to remember the name, class year, relatives and other facts about literally every one of the 10,000 students he taught. But few knew that he worked at it. He has told people about how he started his school year on the Fourth of July weekend. He would take all the folders of the next year's, incoming students, home and look at the name, their picture, the parents and where they lived and, as a result, he could call everyone by name as they entered the school on their very first day at AHS.

He also often talked about the time a boy and girl were making out under the stairwell. They heard the door upstairs open and could see it was an adult, so they ran. The next day Mr. Hurt walked up to the boy in the hallway, put his hand on the boy's shoulder and said, “You never know who is going to come down those stairs”. Nothing more needed to be said.

After Mrs. Hurt was not able to drive them, I had the honor to drive one or both of them to AHS class reunions and school events. More than once, we remembered the time he gave me an excused absence to stay home and watch the last game of the 1957 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Special music was provided by the two AHS graduates known by Mr. Hurt as the Trimble sisters, Jean Wagner and Judy Holste, who sang Amazing Grace. Pastor Collyer read Mr. Hurt’s favorite scripture, Romans 8 verses 28-39 and Psalm 90 verses 1-6 and 12.

Pastor Collyer told how Mr. Hurt had said he was trying to get to 100 years old and he noted how close he came. He lived 99.83 years or 36,448 days. He said, "Ben made the quality of living better for others. He was God's partner to bring good to other”. He read the 23rd Psalm and we closed with one of Mr. Hurt’s favorite hymns, “In the Garden”, followed by a final prayer.

The procession took Mr. Hurt for his last trip through Crozet to Rockgate Cemetery for interment beside his wife Maria. It was an honor to be a pallbearer for my dear friend and a man I deeply loved and respected. If you would like to visit the grave site, turn into Rockgate Cemetery, keep straight until at the back you can bear to the left. Continue a short distance to just before reaching the bottom of the hill. Mr. and Mrs. Hurt’s grave will be a short distance from the road on your left.

We then returned to Crozet Baptist Church where a feast was waiting. There were quite a few AHS graduates in attendance. That is very impressive when you consider that we were teenagers sharing a few minutes a day with this man unique individual more than 50 years ago.

Personal Note - Since last Sunday when I received the message of Mr. Hurt’s passing from J.B., I have been thinking a lot about him. Mr. Hurt. I have many wonderful memories of my days with Mr. Hurt and I know hundreds if not thousands of other AHS graduates do as well. Sitting here writing, it seems that my words are not good enough. It is my personal hope my admiration, love, and pride at having known Mr. Hurt come through.  

Charles “Connie” Crenshaw   Class of 1958