Southern Pines, N.C. — Former Gov. Jim Holshouser was remembered Friday as a man who kept his word, led by example and earned respect because of who he was rather than the title he held.
Holshouser, who led North Carolina from 1973 to 1977, died Monday at age 78 after a lengthy illness. He will be buried in a private ceremony at a later date.
Numerous politicians and state leaders attended his funeral Friday afternoon at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines. Gov. Pat McCrory was joined by former Govs. Jim Hunt, Mike Easley and Beverly Perdue in the front rows of the church. University of North Carolina President Tom Ross sat next to predecessors Erskine Bowles and Molly Broad. House Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, 2nd District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers and 6th District Congressman Howard Coble also were among the hundreds of people paying respects.
Noting the array of dignitaries, Rev. Grady Perryman said titles never meant anything to Holshouser.
"Servant leaders – statesmen and stateswomen – of Gov. Holshouser's ilk are rare," Perryman said. "The greatest possible compliment we could pay him was to call him 'Jim,' for the title did not define nor limit him. We called him 'Jim' to honor him not for that title but to honor him as the man he was."
Ginny Holshouser Mills said her father was called by many names: "Jimmy" in his hometown of Boone, "Jim" by many associates, "Granddaddy" by her two daughters and, of course, "Governor." But he made up another one when his future son-in-law asked how to address him.
"'Your Excellency' will be just fine," Mills recalled him saying with a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face.
Holshouser was the first Republican elected governor in the 20th century, and at 38, he was among the youngest people to ever lead North Carolina. His accomplishments included instituting kindergarten in public schools statewide, establishing health clinics in rural areas and creating the UNC Board of Governors.
Yet, Mills said, he wanted most to be remembered for how he treated people, not anything he got done in office.
"All I hope for is that you'll remember me as a governor who cares about (North Carolinians)," she recalled her father saying. "He cared about all of us as individuals – our lives, our families, our problems, our dreams, our ideas."
Holshouser believed that a cross-section of ideas would bring out the best in everyone and in the state, Mills said, adding that he once told a friend he would have become a Democrat if North Carolina politics were dominated by Republicans when he was young.
That's why he tried to work with both Democrats and Republicans as governor to move the state forward, she said.
"Those partnerships symbolized that foundational belief that we're all in this together, and together we can make great things happen," she said.
Perryman said his efforts left behind an even greater legacy. "He gave politicians a good name," he said, eliciting a big laugh from everyone in the church.
Mills recounted how her father learned to fly and rented a small plane so he could commute to work at a Southern Pines law firm while keeping his promise to her that the family would move back to Boone after his four years in office were over.
"Daddy taught me that you can be creative and find a way to pursue your dreams without losing your integrity," she said. "He led us with a value system that came so naturally to him."