Ralph Tillman Hurley, 92, was called to be with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on February 20, 2022, passing peacefully in his sleep at home.
He was born in the home of his parents, Marion and Tennessee Hurley, on November 21, 1929, the youngest of six children. He was raised in his beloved Hancock County, graduating from Hancock County High School in 1949. He spent three years serving his country in the United States Air Force, stationed at Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany shortly after the end of World War II. He received an honorable discharge from the Air Force in 1953, and returned to Sneedville where he lived, worked, raised a family and spent the remainder of his life.
In 1955 he married the love of his life, Willa Dean Livesay of Kingsport, Tennessee. They had a blessed marriage of 67 years, with two children, four loving grandchildren, and four beautiful great-granddaughters.
Ralph began a long and successful career as a businessman in Hancock County, primarily in partnership with his brother Dewey. From 1953 until 1974, they successfully owned and operated a Farmer’s Market and Supply Store, a general merchandise store, an independent insurance agency, and a real estate and auction company (Hurley’s Real Estate and Auction Company), conducting over 300 farm and estate auctions throughout East Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. In 1974, Ralph and his brother Dewey bought the Citizens Bank of Sneedville, and Ralph served as the President and Chairman of the Board of the bank until his retirement in 1994.
But more important than his business career was Ralph’s devotion to his Lord and Savior. He accepted Christ at age 11 in a revival at his home church, Duck Creek Baptist Church of Sneedville. Shortly thereafter, he developed an interest in music and learned to play the guitar. He spent much of his life singing and playing gospel music with numerous instruments. In addition to the guitar, he learned how to play the dobro, the mandolin, and at age 40, he taught himself how to play the piano and served as a pianist at Duck Creek for over forty years.
He was a founding member of the Duck Creek Quartet along with his brothers Dewey and Calvin, and his cousins Kyle and Hubert Wilder. The Duck Creek Quartet performed Gospel music in hundreds of churches and venues for sixty years. They sang at over 1,500 funerals and at thousands of revivals, festivals and churches throughout the southeast. In 1986, the Duck Creek Quartet was selected to represent the State of Tennessee in a cultural exchange festival between the United States and Japan, and they performed daily for two weeks at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., singing southern gospel music in shape note (do-re-me) style.
Ralph served as a Deacon at Duck Creek Baptist Church for almost sixty years. He was deeply committed to his church. He was so proud of WSDC Radio, a non-profit Christian radio station established at the church in 2000, and that radio station continues to serve Hancock County and East Tennessee today.
He was a great storyteller, a student of the Bible, a wise mentor, and teacher of humility. He was an avid Tennessee sports fan (and probably fired more Tennessee coaches than all the UT Athletic Directors combined). He loved his wife Willa Dean’s cooking, playing music, reading health journals, studying the stock market, solving the Rubik’s Cube, eating at Cracker Barrell, and visiting with friends. He encouraged young people to take up music, and he strongly supported those who work in ministry.
Ralph’s favorite days were when his family would gather at his home. He would often sit quietly in his chair, observing and soaking up the commotion of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren all around him. He often said that he couldn’t believe he had been so blessed as to have four great “grand-girls,” and he was so excited to learn at Christmas that a fifth great-granddaughter is on the way. They all loved their “Papaw Ralph.”
Ralph was preceded in death by his parents, Marion and Tennessee Hurley, brothers Rector Trent, Dewey, Calvin and Carson Evan Hurley, and sister Nina Hurley Lamb.
He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Willa Dean. She was the love of his life and their relationship taught their family the meaning of true love and devotion. He is also survived by his son, Scott Hurley and wife LaDonna of Knoxville, his daughter Jody Hurley of Knoxville, grandson Blake Hurley and wife Rachel of Knoxville, granddaughter Holly Hurley of Stamford, Connecticut, grandson Jordan Wormsley and wife Mary Katherine of Knoxville, and grandson Parker Wormsley of Knoxville. The light of his life in his last years was his four great-granddaughters, Willa and Haynes Hurley, and Ruie and Mary Elliot Wormsley.
Ralph had a dear friend and nephew, Dean Trent (and wife Martha), who preceded him to heaven. He loved his many nieces and nephews, and appreciated the special devotion from his niece, Sandra Mullins and her husband Lowell.
The family would like to extend a special thank you to his healthcare providers at Ballad Healthcare in Sneedville, including Phyliss Dossett and the entire nursing staff, to Nancy Seal and the staff at Hancock County Home Health, as well as to his 24/7 home health care providers, Mandy Baker, Freda Davis, Mandy King, Samantha Hatfield, and Makayla Hatfield. The family also extends a heartfelt thank you to his neighbors, John and Pam Goodman, and to Regina Holt. All of you were wonderful, and we are so thankful for your love and help over the last 50 days.
The family will receive friends at Duck Creek Baptist Church, located at 1989 Duck Creek Road, Sneedville, Tennessee 37869, on Wednesday, February 23, 2022 from 4:30 until 6:30pm. A funeral service and celebration of life will follow at 7:00pm. The service will be live-streamed online by Duck Creek Baptist Church. The family will attend a private burial at Duck Creek Baptist Church Cemetery on Thursday morning, February 24, 2022 at 11:30am.
Pallbearers will be Blake Hurley, Jordan Wormsley, Parker Wormsley, Tim Wilder, Bobby Fleenor, Lowell Mullins, Jordan Wilder and Jamie Stanifer. Honorary Pallbearers will be Terry Hurley, Morris Hurley, Carlin Greene, Dr. Jeff Greene, Rick Greene, and the Deacons of Duck Creek Baptist Church.
The funeral will be officiated by Ralph’s pastor of the last 45 years, Rev. Kester Bunch, and by his friend, Rev. Alan Lamb.
In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of the life of Ralph T. Hurley may be made to WSDC Radio and sent to 1989 Duck Creek Road, Sneedville, Tennessee 37869.
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