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Thursday, February 14, 2013
One of North Augusta’s oldest businessmen has hung up his apron for the last time, with a legacy that included the creation of a CSRA-wide chain of grocery stores.
Gurley’s Supermarkets founder Henry Gurley died Feb. 5, at age 90, having lived in North Augusta for 52 years, mostly on Georgia Avenue. His funeral was held Friday at Posey Funeral Chapel, followed by a supper at North Augusta’s Sunrise Grill, another of his family’s businesses.
“He was a hoot. He was fun,” noted daughter Teresa Benton, of Trenton.
A native of Forest City, N.C., he spent his later years living on Georgia Avenue. He was an avid baseball player at Cool Springs High School and went on to get a grocery job, working at A&P, followed by a mill job.
He joined the Navy in December 1940, serving throughout World War II off Africa and in the South Pacific, being discharged in 1947, according to son Ronald, a Harlem, Ga., resident.
Gurley got a business degree from the University of North Carolina and went on to law school, but was recalled into the Navy for the Korean conflict in 1951. His discharge landed him in Charleston, and by that time, he and his wife, Frances, had six kids.
“He had a family to feed, so he fell back on his experience with A&P,” getting a job with Dixie Home Stores, which would eventually merge to become part of Winn-Dixie.
Gurley had developed a good reputation as a manager and problem-solver, and came to Augusta in January 1960 at age 38 with seven kids. The Gurleys, Ronald noted, had packed up everything and moved to a city they had never seen before, setting up a store on Gwinnett Street.
Gurley was particularly touched by visits from one elderly couple who would shop at his store and make tiny purchases on a consistent basis. He eventually learned it was because they had no refrigerator.
“That touched him,” and Gurley wound up buying a refrigerator for them and three other families in similar situations. They would repay him, as able, with two or three dollars a month, Ronald said.
The supermarket chain eventually grew throughout the CSRA. Most of the stores have now been sold into the IGA chain, but two are still in business – one in Warrenton and one in Warrenville.
“Some of the family wanted to stay in the business,” he added.
Ronald described his dad as courageous, compassionate, smart and steady.
“He just liked being around people,” and he wound up losing both of his wives to cancer – Frances in 1971 and Jenny “years later.”
“Golf and grandkids” became major focal points in his later years, and although Alzheimer’s disease struck him in his middle 80s, “he was strong right up to the end,” in Ronald’s words.
“He always enjoyed church, and was saved, and we had more of a celebration Friday night,” he said, noting that Gurley had donated his body for medical research.
Son Doug Gurley, of Beech Island, laughingly recalled his dad as a man whose work instructions were best obeyed “the first time.”
He cited the time when he did not completely follow his dad’s instructions to lock a back door in order to deal with a shoplifter. The thief ran away, through the unlocked door, and Henry responded, “‘Next time I tell you to do something, do it right!’ I do it right now.”
Roscoe Brown, a friend and Coca-Cola employee who worked with Henry, added, “He was very passionate about his grocery business, and you could tell by all his sons going into it, but most of all, he really liked people, and I think that’s the reason he enjoyed the grocery business so much ...
“I just feel blessed to have known him and be really kind of a part of this family. It’s a wonderful family, and all because of Mr. Gurley, and the fact that he taught them about the grocery business and about life.”
Granddaughter Becky Corley, an Appling resident, said, “He was very full of life. He was comical, and he would brighten the room, from pony-tailed ball caps to his 1958 pink Cadillac that he was very proud of. It was his pride and joy.”