'Never Quit Being Governor': Jim Holshouser Continues to Serve Others
Once a governor, always a governor. Jim E. Holshouser Jr. is proof that service to his state and his people is as unchanging as love of family and faith.
Holshouser will receive the Distinguished Citizens Award from the Moore County District of the Boy Scouts of America on Feb. 27, a new recognition that proves the diversity of his service.
The affable Holshouser chuckles when asked about his Boy Scout experience. He started out as a Cub Scout, but once he advanced to Boy Scout status, his Scouting career ended abruptly when his troop was dissolved.
Years later, after serving in the state legislature and as governor, he was appointed to the board of the Occoneechee Council of the Boy Scouts, a position that helped with fundraising.
In his 74 years, Holshouser has served his state and local community in so many ways that he hesitates to call his four years as governor the highlight of his professional life.
"It's hard to measure," he says. "That's for historians to decide."
When he was elected governor in 1972, Holshouser was the first Republican to hold that office in the 20th century. At age 38, he was also the youngest.
In his eyes, the most significant issue in which he had a hand was restructuring the state university system. In carrying out that restructuring, the state followed the recommendations of a commission and, in so doing, braved the onslaught of cynics who "said it would be a disaster" and would never work.
"Looking back, I think that's the most important thing I did," he says. "Today, I think we have an exceptional state university system. It may be the best in the country, and it's certainly among the top ones."
Once he took office, the new governor's first executive order was a call for an efficiency study. Responding to the call was a crew of business leaders, who volunteered time and expertise.
The result was 600 different recommendations. That sounds daunting, but Holshouser recalls that, surprisingly, most of the recommendations that needed legislative approval were passed. The measure resulted in the saving of about $80 million in the state budget, or about 8 percent of the total.
It was not difficult being a Republican governor dealing with a Democrat-controlled legislature. Holshouser came to the state's top office after four terms in the state House of Representatives and already knew his way around state government.
"I had been a legislator," he says. "They knew me, and I knew them. I knew who I could count on and who I couldn't count on.
"They knew I wasn't a wild rabble-rouser type, that I knew how the legislature worked. I think they knew when to push the button to my direction and when to hold off."
In addition to the university restructuring, Holshouser is proud of his part in passage of the Coastal Management Act, an early environmental measure affecting development along the North Carolina coast. He also promoted passage of a statewide law providing for local election of county and municipal boards of education. Prior to that law, local board members were appointed unless the county was covered by local legislation exempting it from the state appointment law.
During his administration, the state adopted a long-range transportation program, which, although not still intact in original form, has retained some of those goals. Holshouser notes that communities now know where to turn for their voice to be heard on transportation issues.
As for how he managed as a family man during his term as governor, Holshouser says it was easier being a husband and a father in the Executive Mansion than during his eight years in the legislature.
He and his wife, the former Patricia Hollingsworth, had one daughter, Ginny, who was 9 when he was elected governor. His wife died in 2006.
Holshouser laughs when he says that Ginny, now the mother of his two granddaughters, escaped the dangers of being a teenager in the Governor's Mansion.
"The tales are legendary about boys calling on teenage girls at the mansion and quaking in their boots at the entrance," he says.
Ginny was so young that she used to skateboard from the mansion down to the legislative building, where she would say "hello" to legislators and staff. State officials still remember that sight with warmth.
Holshouser says that the experience of growing up in the governor's mansion gave Ginny a wealth of experience about state government.
"Today, she considers every highway patrolman to be her friend," he says.
Ginny and her husband, John Mills, now live in Winston-Salem with daughters, Holly, a high school junior, and Maggie, a freshman.
"Daddy has had an amazing ability to hold us close and love us even from afar," Ginny Mills says. "Whether I've lived under the same roof, a couple of hours away, or in another country, we have always felt his love so strongly."
As a result of her father's example, Ginny says she never had problems with women's "liberation" issues because she always felt liberated.
"My own experience of being 'fathered' has been one of receiving constant encouragement to be well-educated, to choose my own career path, to discern and pursue God's calling and to be my very best," she says. "No oppression there."
Ginny adds that her dad has been equally supportive of her husband and their daughters.
"He's been a wonderful and often challenging model to follow with regard to integrity, humility and service to others, and yet he's always fun and easy to be around -- except when his Tar Heels beat my Demon Deacons," Ginny says.
'Feel a Trusteeship'
When his term as governor ended in 1977, Holshouser moved to Southern Pines and set up law practice in Pinehurst.
"You never quit being governor," former Gov. Dan Moore once advised his much younger successor.
Holshouser soon learned that was true.
"You can't help but feel a trusteeship about the state," he says. "You can't do everything people ask you to do, but it's a really fulfilling experience to help and to be asked to help."
Holshouser was soon asked to serve as county attorney, then to co-chair the water expansion program in Southern Pines.
His service at the state level has never stopped. Among his more recent leadership roles has been assistance with passage of the $3 billion statewide bond issue for state colleges and universities in 2000.
As a lifelong Presbyterian, it was the natural thing for him to be elected an elder in Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines. In addition to serving on the Session, he has been a deacon and treasurer at Brownson, where he also served as vice chairman of the Building Committee for a new sanctuary. He served on the Council on Theology and Culture of the Presbyterian Church US.
He chaired the Board of Trustees of St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg and served on the Board of Trustees at Davidson College, his alma mater, and on the Board of Advisors for Lees McRae College. He also chaired the successful $50 million capital fundraising campaign for Davidson College and led a similar campaign at St. Andrews.
In 1979, he was elected to an eight-year term on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors and was later re-elected. He now serves as a member emeritus. The UNC system continues to use its distinguished alumnus in many capacities. He has chaired both the Personnel Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee and is a former chairman of the UNC Presidential Search Committee.
"I just always felt that higher education is important for our state to thrive," he says.
Two Former Governors Join
In 1997, Holshouser joined another former governor, Terry Sanford, in establishing a new law firm, Sanford Holshouser, with offices in Pinehurst and the Raleigh area. It was the firm that Sanford established when he retired as governor in 1965.
What made this union so interesting was the difference in their political parties. Holshouser remains a dedicated Republican, and Sanford, who died in 1998, was an icon of the Democratic Party.
What made them decide to work together and how did they get along?
It worked out beautifully, and they got along fine. Nevertheless, there was a lot of teasing between the two men.
"We had no problems," Holshouser says. "We saw alike on a lot of things, but we were always teasing each other about being registered in the wrong party. I was the one who was right, of course."
Despite their party differences, Sanford and Holshouser were regarded as moderates in their parties. When it came to business, they saw eye to eye on most matters.
"Time has a way of mellowing people," he says. "It makes it easier to work with people side by side."
Earlier this year, his firm merged with the South Carolina law firm of Nexsen Pruet, but the familiar Sanford Holshouser name is still in use at his Pinehurst office, where he continues to concentrate on real estate, "some government stuff and some corporate work."
Received Organ Donation
It helps that he is a jolly man who laughs easily and enjoys gently teasing family, friends and colleagues.
Born in Watauga County, Holshouser is a graduate of Davidson College and the University of North Carolina Law School, where he was president of his senior class. He was 28 when elected to his first legislative term.
While governor, he was elected to the executive committee of the National Governors Conference and chaired the Southern Growth Policies Board.
Service has also included the Committee on Court Study for the N.C. Bar Association and chair of the Sight and Life Committee. He is a member of the Real Estate Section of the N.C. Bar Association and was appointed to the Judicial Response Committee by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
The recipient of a donor organ himself, Holshouser was elected in 1989 to the board of the United Network for Organ Sharing, the organization designated by the federal government to oversee and establish rules for the distribution of organs for transplants in the United States. He chaired the Board of the Matter of Life Consortium Inc., an organization formed to increase statewide education and involvement for organ and tissue transplantation. He is honorary chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Carolina.
Among a host of honors accepted through the years is the Jaycee Freedom Guard Award, a national recognition for civic, religious and government activities. He is a JCI Senator and holds life membership in the North Carolina Jaycees.
His diverse activities range from chairmanship of the Steering Committee for Eisenhower Fellowships to the Institute of Government Foundation to the Jim Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership.
The list of honors, services and activities is too long to print in entirety but includes service on the Southern Regional Literary Commission and the Governor's Commission on Literacy.
One tidbit unmentioned in biographical sketches is his brief employment more than 30 years ago as a sports columnist for the Greensboro News Record during the basketball tournament. That was 1974, the year that N.C. State University won it all.
"It was fun," he says.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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