How a Special Event Introduced Me to My Grandfather

History Smiths

One sparkling summer afternoon the Navy League of Boston held an outdoor cookout at Coast Guard Station Gloucester, Massachusetts. I attended with a (male) friend in the Navy, and prepared (as a civilian woman) to be either ignored or bored by endless “shop talk.”

Instead, for some reason, when I filled out my name tag, this time I decided to include my middle name. The head of the Navy League took one look at the name “Hurd,” gasped, and said, “Are you related to Jack Hurd?” “Yes, I replied, he was my grandfather.”

That was a game changer. It felt like the heavens had opened up the way this man responded, and I suddenly became the belle of the ball. Everyone wanted to meet me and tell me a story about my grandfather, and I found myself “meeting” a side of him I knew nothing about. I still choke up!

I learned that my grandfather, Commander John Coolidge Hurd, USNR, had been very active with the Navy League after he retired from the service to be with his family. I learned that he was unwaveringly generous to Navy families, to veterans, to young officers and recruits. I learned that Navy folks were at his home “all the time,” and that he and my grandmother hosted cookouts for Navy families. I heard story after story about how loved, respected, kind, charming, and witty my grandfather was.

All of this from a special event. How else would I have learned what I did? I have no idea.

Yes, I had known my grandfather when I was growing up, but not well. He died when I was a teenager, but because my mother, his daughter, had a difficult relationship with him, I never, ever knew about his Navy activities. I never attended a cookout to see him in action, or go to a Navy League event, or meet men he had served with. Except for the photographs in his study of the men he commanded, I never knew my Navy commander grandfather.

What a loss for me as a kid, but what a gift to hear these stories years later. Eventually, I was able to retrieve my grandfather’s service records and learn even more.

Lessons learned?

I have no memory of which businesses and organizations supported this event along with the Navy League, but I would thank them if I could. Imagine knowing that an event you supported was responsible for giving someone such a precious gift.

We also need to talk to veterans, hear their stories, and write them down. (I wish I had!) Again, what role can you or your business play in this work?

Finally, we need to nurture the relationships between grandparents and grandchildren, between those two generations. I had no idea what I was missing out on.

Supporting good work in the world comes back to you – it just does.

Which community events are you supporting this year?

Harrison Bennett, the President and CEO of History Smiths, is an expert on using history in new and innovative ways. She is a marketing, PR, event planning, and cultural tourism professional who also happens to be a respected historian (especially women’s history), author, and public speaker. Her companion website is called Women Make History.