I have one New Year's resolution for Connecticut's capital city: Let's figure out a way to restore the good name and reputation of Walter "Doc" Hurley's scholarship fund for Hartford youth.
In fact, put a sense of urgency on it. At 91 and in declining health, this local legend shouldn't have his legacy tainted by the lingering hot mess surrounding his daughter Muriel Hurley's apparent squandering of hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money over the last seven years.
The focus has been on finding out what happened to the money. The sad reality is that 15 students promised scholarships over the past six years did not receive them. But let's also remember that for almost three decades about 500 Hartford students did indeed receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in "Doc'' scholarship money.
A lot of lives were transformed and cycles of poverty broken through educational opportunities provided, in part, by the scholarship established in 1975. So, there's no need to make this troubling episode in the foundation's history a reason to dismantle it permanently. The Doc Hurley scholarship fund simply needs to be repositioned, with a credible entity (such as the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving) as the steward of the funds. I hear these talks are already in works, and I've spoken to people willing to put up seed money to re-establish the Doc fund, as long as there is more professional oversight and accounting.
Through the reports of The Courant's Matt Kauffman and Vanessa de la Torre, a troubling story line depicts the demise of the foundation, which apparently is now broke. Doc Hurley's health was worsening, the foundation's board members became disengaged from the operation and Muriel Hurley became the sole administrator of the money. In the foundation world, this is a recipe for disaster. Combine those dynamics with the alleged severe financial problems of Muriel Hurley and we get a much better picture of how so much money could go unaccounted.
You don't need a crystal ball to predict that after the attorney general and consumer protection folks complete their investigation, they will recommend a criminal investigation by the state's attorney's office. Collecting scholarship money that is somehow diverted from students is serious stuff. Muriel Hurley has some explaining to do. What the folks who love Doc Hurley can do is put procedures in place so this scenario never happens again.
They can harken back to 2000. As part of a campaign to raise $3 million, the Phoenix Foundation put up $500,000 for the Doc fund. Phoenix CEO Robert Fiondella and then-Courant Publisher Marty Petty raised another $500,000. The purpose was to make sure the scholarship and Hurley's legacy lived forever. The interest generated from the endowment would fund the scholarships.
Doc Hurley, who now uses a wheelchair, is a big man with enormous pride. He was a four-star athlete at Weaver High, a scholarship football player at Virginia State and Marine World War II veteran. Later, he was an assistant principal and tough-love father figure at Weaver High for 16 years. The stories of how his presence and perseverance kept an angry, 800-member student body from tearing up Weaver after Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 are legend. His desire to land a local coaching position was also well known. Doc Hurley simply found another way to mentor and raise the expectations of urban youth.
If you want to measure Hurley's impact, ask yourself how many former assistant school principals have a school field house named in their honor and an endowed scholarship established in their name, backed by the city's movers and shakers.
My crystal ball foretells a meaningful fix and revival of the Doc Hurley scholarship fund — and a return of the popular annual Doc Hurley high school basketball tournament. This signature event in the city was affectionately known as "The Doc."
Walter Hurley's father wanted him to be a doctor. At age 6, the son was tagged with a nickname that stuck for a lifetime. Doc Hurley never made it to medical school.
He did, however, become a healer in a divided community.
Note to readers: This is my last column while I work on a book project.
Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show'' (www.foxct.com/stan and Saturdays, 5:30 a.m., on FOX CT).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun