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Holshouser remembered for NC political work, faith

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Former Gov. Jim Holshouser died Monday at age 78. Former Gov. Jim Holshouser died Monday at age 78.
SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. -

American flags lined the streets of downtown Southern Pines on Friday, as a tribute to former Governor Jim Holshouser.

"So many people will miss that man," said Mike Haney about Holshouser.

Haney is a former Southern Pines mayor who said Holshouser influenced him and many others to take leadership roles in politics and their communities.

"They really are in mourning over the loss of this man personally, but also for the state of North Carolina - a true public servant," Haney said before Holshouser's funeral Friday.

Former Holshouser cabinet member George Little said Holshouser served as a way to make a difference in the lives of North Carolinians.

"He paved the way," Little said. "He opened the doors for us as a party to have people serving in statewide office."

Friends and family and scores of politicians of the past 40 years said goodbye to former Gov. Jim Holshouser on Friday at a memorial where his daughter and pastor recalled his faith and integrity and commitment to bring people of all political persuasions together for North Carolina.

"Whether you called him Jimmy, or governor, or granddaddy or Uncle Jim, he was the same guy," daughter Ginny Holshouser Mills told more than 500 people at a Moore County church attending the service. "He's the guy who loved North Carolina and all ... campuses of the University of North Carolina. He never wanted to live anywhere else and he wanted to make it the best place in the world to live."

Holshouser, a Boone native, was the first Republican elected governor in the state in the 20th century. He died Monday at a Pinehurst hospital at age 78.

He also had been a state legislator, longtime University of North Carolina board member, attorney and public policy advocate. He served one term as governor, from 1973 to 1977, and slowly ushered in an era of two-party politics after decades of dominance by Democrats.

Both parties were well-represented at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines, where he lived for more than 30 years.

On Friday, it turned into the site of a political homecoming. Current Gov. Pat McCrory, a mentor to Holshouser, attended the service, as did three of the other four living governors - Democrats Jim Hunt, Mike Easley and Beverly Perdue. The other living governor - Republican Jim Martin - was out of the country this week.

Before the service, Hunt called Holshouser a "builder" who worked on bipartisan efforts to improve education and most recently seek to preserve a volunteer public campaign finance program for appellate court candidates. "He was a man who worked with everybody and he understood that you don't get ahead by just cutting here and cutting there and setting people against each other," Hunt said.

With Democrats holding overwhelmingly majorities in the General Assembly in the mid-1970s, Holshouser had to reach out to the other side to get things accomplished. But bipartisanship and working together permeated through his entire life in and out of office, said Mills, who delivered one of the two eulogies and was later presented by a state trooper a folded North Carolina flag that had been draped on the church altar.

"Daddy always knew that it was through relationships that things got done that he couldn't do it alone," Mills said, pointing out that he treasured his relationships with two Democrats - Hunt and former UNC system President Erskine Bowles, who also attended the service. "Those partnerships symbolized that foundational belief that we're all in this together and together we can make big things happen."

Holshouser rode the first Republican wave in North Carolina politics since the Fusion movement of the late 1800s, benefiting from Richard Nixon's 49-state presidential victory in 1972.

It was Bowles' father, Hargrove "Skipper" Bowles, whom Holshouser beat to become North Carolina's youngest governor and the first GOP governor elected since Daniel Russell in 1896. After leaving office, Holshouser resumed a law practice and spent more than 30 years on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, where he led the search committee that picked Molly Broad as UNC system president.

Broad praised Holshouser at a reception after the service. She recalled how Holshouser talked to her on the phone weekly during her first year as president to provide counsel. Recalling his humor, Broad said "he would end every call with, 'don't screw up.'" The Rev. Grady Perryman, the Brownson Memorial pastor, remembered aloud the former governor's wittiness as well.

"He gave politicians a good name," Perryman said, calling Holshouser a deeply committed Christian known as church elder, Bible teacher and friend who will be greatly missed. Perryman said Holshouser helped underwrite a translation of the Bible into a dialect in Mexico and kept an edition in his den. Holshouser was not the kind of person to flaunt his titles, he added: "The only label that really mattered to him was 'child of God.'"

U.S. Reps. Renee Ellmers, Howard Coble and Richardson and ex-Rep. Charles Taylor also attended the service, which was highlighted by a more than 50-voice choir singing traditional hymns. On the altar sat Holshouser's ashes in a container. On one side sat his State of North Carolina Award - the highest individual honor the state bestows to a civilian. On the other side sat a translucent globe containing roses from services for his wife Pat, who died in 2006.

The service brought out former Holshouser administration aide and rivals, including former Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner, who lost to Holshouser in the 1972 gubernatorial GOP primary. Longtime Republican consultant Jack Hawke, who backed Gardner in 1972 and helped McCrory win 40 years later, ended up being appointed a deputy transportation secretary in Holshouser's administration.

Holshouser "didn't have any reason to be good to me," Hawke said. "There aren't many people like him."

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