John Skvarla, twice a NC Cabinet secretary, dies at age 73

Published 11:55 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2022

PINEHURST (AP) — John Skvarla, a two-time Cabinet secretary for then-North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory during a long career in law, business and economic development, died on Tuesday. He was 73.

Skvarla, who had been diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, died in hospice care in Pinehurst, where he lived, according to Neal Robbins, publisher of the North State Journal and a longtime Skvarla friend who spoke to his family.

A former top executive at several companies, Skvarla served as secretary of what is now called the Department of Environmental Quality for McCrory in 2013 and 2014. In early 2015, he moved over to become the Republican governor’s commerce secretary.

“North Carolina has lost a great public servant, friend and mentor to so many,” McCrory wrote in a tweet.

As environment secretary, Skvarla emphasized making the agency a more customer service-friendly organization, in part by improving interactions between employees and people trying to obtain permits.

His tenure was marked by a February 2014 coal ash leak at a Duke Energy site into the Dan River. The spill led to a federal investigation and scrutiny about state government’s oversight of the utility’s other coal ash dumps. The spill ultimately caused state officials to make the cleanup of these sites a priority.

While commerce secretary, Skvarla helped lure businesses and jobs to the state. But he also faced the fallout over the 2016 “bathroom bill” that the legislature passed and McCrory signed. The law, also known as House Bill 2, cost the state billions of dollars in lost business, including canceled sporting events and job expansions.

In 2017, Skvarla joined the Nexsen Pruett law firm, where he was working as a consultant. It said recently he played a role in the project that is bringing Toyota to North Carolina to build an electric vehicle battery plant.

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law school, Skvarla founded in the 1970s what is now the Wyrick Robbins law firm. His career also included being chief operating officer of an all-cargo airline; CEO of a physical therapy provider; and CEO of an environmental mitigation firm.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete late Tuesday. Skvarla’s survivors include his wife, two children and three grandchildren, according to the Journal.