James Holshouser, former NC governor and UNC-CH alumnus, dies at 78

Former North Carolina Gov. James Holshouser — whose 1972 election ended seven decades of Democratic control of the governor’s mansion — died Monday after a long-term illness. He was 78.

A graduate of Davidson College and UNC-CH’s School of Law, Holshouser spent a decade as a state legislator before ascending to the lead executive role.

Holshouser’s victory in the 1972 gubernatorial election, the first by a Republican in North Carolina in almost 80 years, was monumental. He was one of only three Republican governors to be elected in the state since the Civil War, the third being current Gov. Pat McCrory.

Holshouser became governor one year after the 16 state-supported campuses in North Carolina — which now includes the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics — were consolidated into the University of North Carolina system.

One of his key accomplishments was overseeing the establishment of the UNC Board of Governors as the university governance body, a structure that remains in place today.

UNC system president Tom Ross said Holshouser maintained a strong working relationship with the universities throughout his tenure as governor and had remained an advocate for the system ever since.

“On any issue of long-term importance to the University or higher education in this state, his counsel was sought out and highly valued,” Ross said in a statement. “Our University had no greater friend or better role model. He will be deeply missed.”

Within the education realm, Holshouser spearheaded a capital improvement program in the state’s community colleges and expanded access to early education by increasing the number of public school kindergartens.

He also paid special attention to health care and economic development measures, working to increase access to medical treatment for rural North Carolina residents and improving the state’s international trade relations.

Gov. McCrory said in a statement that Holshouser’s leadership in the state was invaluable.

“He was a champion of education,” McCrory said. “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.”

Holshouser, who left office in 1977, was the youngest North Carolina governor ever elected and the last governor not to be eligible for a second term.

After his time as governor, he continued to practice law in Boone and Southern Pines and served on the UNC Board of Governors for almost two decades. He later earned emeritus status on the board and continued in that role until his death.

N.C. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) said in a statement that Holshouser’s ability to foster relationships with people of all backgrounds and political persuasions was one of his greatest assets.

“I treasure the many times we spent together discussing his passion — the education of young North Carolinians,” Tillis said. “Even as his health failed him in later years, his service to North Carolina never stopped.”

UNC-CH honored Holshouser’s legacy in Dec. 2012, establishing the James E. Holshouser Jr. Distinguished Professorship at the School of Government. The professorship honors Holshouser’s emphasis on effective local government and the economic improvement of North Carolina’s communities.

Holshouser was a resident of Southern Pines at the time of his death.

“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,” the Holshouser family said in a statement.

“Most of all, we are grateful for his example of wisdom, integrity, love and servant leadership.”

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