A giant of an N.C. leader

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Integrity, principle guided Holshouser
By Phil Kirk

For the Salisbury Post
I had the opportunity to talk with Gov. Jim Holshouser on Saturday morning although he was unconscious and probably did not hear me, especially since his daughter, Ginny, said he did not have his hearing aids on.
In case, he could hear me, I thanked him for being a mentor to me and for taking a chance on me and so many other young people at such an early age by bringing me into his administration. I also told him that I would be pulling on behalf of both of us for State to beat Carolina in the College World Series in baseball on Sunday afternoon, knowing that despite the tremendous challenges to his health, especially in the last year, he had never lost his sense of humor.

There are many adjectives that come to mind in describing Governor Holshouser, but “integrity” is at the top of the list. He was also intelligent and highly principled. Persuasive would be another word to describe him. I had just been re-elected to the North Carolina Senate and was teaching at Salisbury High when he called and asked me to resign both positions and come to Raleigh to serve as his Chief of Staff. I quickly said “yes,” and it was a decision I would never regret.
Governor Holshouser left office with as much humility as he had when he entered office. Sadly, this is not true of all politicians, and I use the word “politician” with a great deal of reverence. The governor knew how to get people to work together, regardless of party — a trait which is often lacking today.
I also liked Governor Holshouser because he would frequently allow me to leave the office to play golf with him and his chief of security and an SBI agent. Of course, both of them were great golfers and I was the only one in the foursome he could beat.

I never felt he quite got the credit he deserved for his many accomplishments in office, such as the vast expansion of the state parks system, expansion of public kindergarten statewide, creation of the Area Health Education and rural health care program, improvements in education at every level — just to name a few.
My experiences working in Governor Holshouser’s office and as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services convinced me that a single four-year term was not long enough, so when Governor Hunt asked me to co-chair a statewide campaign to change the Constitution to permit two consecutive four-year terms, I readily agreed. And so did my mentor, who served as honorary co-chair of the campaign along with other former governors.
Those of us who were fortunate to work with the state’s first Republican governor in the 20th century, in addition to the millions of Tar Heels who never met him, owe this giant of a leader a tremendous debt of gratitude and love.

Salisbury native Phil Kirk served as chief of staff for Govs. Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin and U.S. Sen. Jim Broyhill.