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“I decided I would like to run for the legislature. Looking back it was a rambunctious decision because I was just as green as grass right out of law school.” - Jim Holshouse
In the first installment of the three-part series Biographical Conversations with…Jim Holshouser, join this prolific policymaker as he shares candid recollections from his childhood in the North Carolina mountains, remembrances of serving in the state legislature and his work to reform the state’s higher education system.
Born in 1934 to Virginia Dayvault Holshouser, a nurse, and James Holshouser, a U.S. District Attorney, James Eubert Holshouser Jr. grew up in Boone, NC. Holshouser was born into a family of what he later describes as “Lincoln Republicans,” as were most people from the mountainous regions of North Carolina.
As a child, James battled numerous health problems including asthma and bouts of pneumonia and was often sidelined by illness that prevented him from participating in sports that he loved. Holshouser attends public schools in Boone, NC.
Holshouser graduated from Appalachian High School in Boone, NC, in June 1952. He was senior class president, vice-president of the National Honors Society, played baseball, was sports editor of school newspaper, senior editor of Annual, played trombone in All-State band, and the orchestra and sang in the chorus.
After graduating from Davidson College, Holshouser went on to attend law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. During his tenure at UNC that he serves as class president and develops an interest in politics, particularly in the area of judicial reform. He frequently attended sessions of the state legislature while a student at UNC.
After graduating from law school in 1960, he returned to Watauga County to practice law with his father. Holshouser became actively involved in community improvement organizations by serving as county chairman of the Heart Fund, the United Fund Board of Directors, the advisory board of the Regional Mental Health Authority, the board of directors of the Southern Appalachian Historical Association, and the Mountain Scenic Economic Development Commission. In 1961, Holshouser married Patricia Ann Hollingsworth.
Motivated by an interest in reforming the state’s judicial nomination system, he ran for the state Legislature and won a seat in 1962. Elected to the N.C. House of Representatives in a small but growing Republican Party, he ran on a platform to expedite application of the new court reform law, reduce taxes and establish an automobile inspection plan.
While a member of the legislature, he fought for consumer legislation and improvements in the state’s higher education system. Representative Holshouser quickly rose to positions of leadership, eventually becoming the youngest state party chairman at the age of 32.
“The fact that I had experience in the legislature gave enough people confidence that as a Republican governor I wouldn’t be like a bull in a china shop.” - Jim Holshouser
In the second installment of Biographical Conversations with…Jim Holshouser , the legendary state politician reminisces on leading a growing state Republican Party, his inauguration as the first Republican governor in 72 years and fostering economic development during challenging times.
In 1972, after several terms in the legislature, Jim Holshouser announced his candidacy for Governor of North Carolina.
Holshouser financed his campaign with proceeds from mortgaging a hotel in Boone of which he was part owner. Holshouser asked his opponent Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles to agree on a campaign-spending limit, but Bowles declined. Bowles spent $875,000 to win the Democratic nomination; Holshouser spent only about $400,000 for the campaign. While campaigning for governor, Holshouser said he wanted to raise teachers’ salaries by 15 percent over the biennium, spend $600 million over a two-year period for reducing class size and expanding the kindergarten program. Endorsed by Political Action Committee for Education, N.C.A.E., N.C. Truck Drivers Association and Youth Legislative Assembly, he promised a bold new road program and new four-lane highways, was against forced busing and taxes on tobacco and gasoline and promised to build a first-class educational system. He also promised an all-out war on drugs.
In 1973, Holshouser won the governorship and was inaugurated as the first Republican governor since the turn of the century. As governor, he led improvements in economic development, established a system of rural health clinics, expanded the state public parks system, and was instrumental in restructuring the system of higher education in North Carolina.
As an advocate of free trade and following President Nixon’s groundbreaking meeting with Leonid Brezhnev in the Soviet Union, Governor Holshouser led a North Carolina trade mission to Moscow in September 1973. The stop in Moscow was part of a three-week tour with a 31-member trade commission to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
In 1975, Governor Holshouser faced serious economic challenges in North Carolina that were deeply affected by the national recession, a natural gas crisis, rising unemployment rates, and the political fallout of Watergate.
During his term, Governor Holshouser appointed the first woman to a high-ranking, cabinet-level position. Grace Rohrer was appointed Commissioner of the Department of Art, History and Culture. He was also honored in Washington, DC by the Senator Hugh Scott National Scholarship Foundation for his significant contributions to the field of human rights.
As governor, Holshouser was elected to the executive committee of the National Governors conference, and he 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.
“If you are going to have a full life, education makes so much difference; not just in terms of your ability to make a living, but also in terms of your ability to see all of what life has to offer.”
In the final installment of Biographical Conversations with…Jim Holshouser , the renowned public servant candidly recounts his life after the Governor’s mansion, his return to private law practice, his work on the UNC Board of Governors and political and public service as a way of life.
Jim Holshouser accomplished many of his goals as governor, including a demonstration that, “North Carolina could operate for four years with a Republican governor without the world coming to an end and without causing a major political crisis or anything like that.” He is remembered for establishing rural health clinics, studying and reforming governmental operations, laying the plan for a criminal justice information system and reorganizing state government. He also played a major role in the restructuring of the system of higher education in North Carolina, and improving the roads and highway systems in NC.
At the end of his term as governor, Holshouser decided he would not run for re-election. On why he and his wife Pat decided not to run for re-election, Holshouser says, “We were very, very tired by the end of 1976. And we were ready for a break from politics, ready to sort of get out of the limelight and back in the private sector because I never really anticipated a political career.”
The NC state Board of Transportation dedicated highway 321, named in Governor Holshouser’s honor for his efforts to improve the quality of life for North Carolinians.
After his historic term as a Republican governor of North Carolina, Jim Holshouser remained committed to public service. Holshouser served on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, ran major capital campaigns for Davidson and St. Andrews Colleges, served on boards for economic and community development, and participated in statewide programs for educational enrichment.
In 1987, Holshouser became chairman of the Davidson College $50 million Capital Campaign Fund. He later joined the leadership committee for the “Campaign for St. Andrews,” an aggressive capital campaign for the Presbyterian college with a pledge goal of $12 million over three years.
And in the late 80s, Holshouser was re-elected to the UNC Board of Governors and to the Board of Directors 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. In 1992, he served as chairman of the board of the Matter of Life Consortium, Inc., an organization formed to increase statewide education and involvement for organ and tissue transplantation. He was also honorary chairman of the National Kidney Foundation of North Carolina. In 1997, Appalachian State University established a $500,000 endowed professorship honoring the former governor.
Holshouser is currently a practicing attorney and has offices in both in Pinehurst and Raleigh, NC.