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Born in Boone in 1934, Former GOP Gov. Jim Holshouser Passes Away in Pinehurst at the age of 78

Compiled by Jesse Wood

June 17, 2013. Born in Boone in 1934, former Gov. Jim Holshouser passed away today. In 1973, he became North Carolina’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

He graduated from Davidson College and attended law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and. In his late 20’s, he was elected to the legislature, two years after graduating from law school in 1962. 

Below are statements from his family, Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.

Holshouser’s Family Releases Statement

Holshouser’s official portrait as Governor, 1973- 1977. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: From the General Negative Collection of the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh.

Former Governor Jim Holshouser passed away today at First Health of the Carolinas Medical Center in Pinehurst after a period of declining health. Holshouser was elected in 1972 as North Carolina’s 68th governor and the first Republican governor since 1896. He was the youngest NC governor ever elected and the last NC governor not eligible to run for a second term. Holshouser remained an active public servant until just a few weeks ago as a member of the Board of Governors for the University of North Carolina system, the National Mortgage Settlement task force, and the Public Policy and Affairs group with the law firm of Nexsen Pruet.

Holshouser continued in law practice with his firm, Sanford Holshouser, in Pinehurst until his death. Holshouser and Former NC Governor Terry Sanford joined forces in 1997 to promote strong economic development for North Carolina. And he partnered closely with Former Governor Jim Hunt to promote strong education and state-funded judicial elections and with Former UNC President Erskine Bowles to promote a strong University. Holshouser was committed to working in partnership with both Republicans and Democrats out of his commitment to serve all North Carolinians.

In a statement from his family, daughter Ginny shared, “We are grateful for the loving care of the staff at First Health and St. Joseph’s of the Pines and for the many friends and family who have so lovingly supported him and our family through the last several months. Most of all, we are grateful for his example of wisdom, integrity, love and servant leadership.”

Holshouser was also a long-term kidney transplant survivor and a strong advocate for organ donation. He received a kidney transplant in December, 1986. In a twist of fate, Jim and Pat Holshouser were married 52 years ago today.

Memorial service arrangements have not been announced.

Gov. McCrory Releases Statement on Holshouser’s Passing

Governor Pat McCrory offered his condolences to Governor James E. Holshouser’s family today. The governor passed away early this morning at the age of 78. Holshouser was governor of North Carolina from January 1973 until January 1977.

“James Holshouser was more than a friend and mentor, he was a genuine leader,” said Governor McCrory. “His passing is not only a loss for the state of North Carolina, but for the countless number of people who were personally touched by his guidance and kindness. Ann and I will have the Holshouser family in our prayers.” 

Governor McCrory visited the Holshouser family Sunday afternoon to pay his respects.

Governor Holshouser served on Governor’s McCrory’s transition team and offered advice on building a cabinet, preparing a budget and handling the demands of the governor’s office.

“His counsel was invaluable,” Governor McCrory said. “Compassion was the foundation of Governor Holshouser’s life. He was a champion of education. He made health care available in counties that didn’t have doctors.  And he provided historic professional opportunities to women and minorities. North Carolina is a better place because of his leadership and heart.” 

James Holshouser was elected governor in 1972, the first Republican to be voted into the governor’s chair since 1896. Immediately, he made history by appointing the first woman to serve at the cabinet level. Grace Rohrer served as his Commissioner of the Department of Art, History and Culture.

Education was a hallmark of Governor Holshouser’s administration. He modernized and consolidated university governance under the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, a structure still in place today. He also spearheaded a historic capital improvement program for the state’s community colleges. Governor Holshouser was a strong believer in early childhood education as well, establishing the first statewide enrollment of kindergarten students. 

Governor Holshouser paid special attention to the needs of rural North Carolina. As part of his health agenda, he established clinics in rural areas not served by local physicians. He also worked creatively to establish new economic opportunities through international trade. In September 1973, Holshouser led a North Carolina trade mission to the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. 

During his term of service to the state, Governor Holshouser’s counsel was sought by many organizations. He was elected to the executive committee of the National Governors Conference. He also was elected chairman of the Southern Regional Education Board, co-chairman of the Coastal Plains Regional Commission and chairman of the Southern Growth Policies Board.

Governor Holshouser was the last North Carolina governor not eligible to run for a second term. After leaving office in 1977, he resumed his law practice in Boone and Southern Pines and continued to contribute to the community. In 1979 he was elected to the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina, where he eventually earned emeritus status. 

He also served on the board of Davidson College and, in 1987, successfully spearheaded a $50 million fundraising campaign for the institution. In 1990, he raised $12 million for St. Andrews, a Presbyterian college, and also served as its board of trustees’ chairman.

Following a kidney transplant in 1986, Governor Holshouser devoted much of his time and treasure to numerous organ transplant organizations including the board of directors of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

Governor Holshouser’s commitment to economic development for struggling communities never waned, and, in 1995 his efforts were recognized. He received the Distinguished Public Service citation from the North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, now known as the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce. 

Governor Holshouser earned numerous life achievement honors, but perhaps the most enduring are the professorships that bear his name. In 1997, Appalachian State University in Boone established the James E. Holshouser Jr. Distinguished Professor of Ethics chair in the Walker College of Business. Dr. Alan E. Singer currently holds the professorship.  

In December 2012, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill established the James E. Holshouser Jr. Distinguished Professorship at the UNC School of Government. The professorship honors Holshouser’s emphasis on effective local government and the economic improvement of North Carolina’s communities. 

U.S. Sen. Hagan Releases Statement on Holshouser’s Passing

”I am sad to learn that former Governor Jim Holshouser has died. Jim was such a good man, and I’ve long admired his ability to work with Democrats and Republicans. His moderate, consensus-building approach made him an effective leader who brought health clinics to underserved areas, bolstered our public education system and backed important legislation to protect our environment. Jim served during a time of great change in our nation. As our state and our country worked to fulfill our ideals as a land of opportunity for all, he appointed African-Americans to key positions and named the first woman to a cabinet-level position. Jim leaves behind many contributions to North Carolina, and my thoughts and prayers are with Jim’s family during this difficult time.”