Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., May 9, 1998. Interview C-0328-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Personal pressures of the governorship

Holshouser describes the personal pressures of the governorship. The office not only confines you and your family in a "fish bowl," it also creates an enduring sense of obligation, both to continue serving and in citizens who remember your service. Holshouser goes on to reflect on the unique pressure the office exerts on governors' wives and his efforts to maintain a somewhat normal family life by relying on routines, like a family breakfast.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., May 9, 1998. Interview C-0328-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK FLEER:
I want to talk finally about the impact of being governor on you as a person and on your family. What do you see has been the impact of being governor? What was it while you were governor and what has it been since on you as an individual?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well during the governorship you move from being just one of the fellows to being the guy in the fish bowl all of the time and the family in the fish bowl all the time. It has a serious impact on the wife and kids. That is an impact that probably will last with them for a lifetime. In one sense, it gives the governor something that you can't lose, unless you throw it away and nobody can take away from you by the fact that you got elected even if it is a total accident. And that gives you I think a confidence. I think whether it is deserved or not, it lets you see life in a little bit different perspective. It has people seeing you in somewhat of a different perspective. If you leave office and go out and get yourself convicted of embezzling an investment of $100,000 from somebody or get charged with sexual molestation of minors or whatever, you are going to lose that. You have some potential to lose some of it if you come back and try to run again and lose as Bob [Scott] did, against Jim Hunt. Although I find for the most part those scars are probably felt just inside of him and I am not sure that they are there. I think that most people have sort of forgotten that; but it is just not in front of their minds all of the time. They just view Bob as the former governor. I think he is just as well regarded as others in spite of that loss. Hadn't changed the fact that he knows a lot about government, knows an awful lot of people, that kind of thing. Just the sheer fact of running, if you run right, gives you a whole new perspective on the state, how big it is and how long it is, all different parts of it. Serving heightens that I think. It is nice to know that if my car breaks down somewhere in the night any place, there is going to be somebody out there I know who can come give me a place to spend the night. I think it gives you a sense of public duty that doesn't stop when you leave office. Part of it won't let you. Dan Moore told me one time you can't ever quit being Governor. A lot of people who helped you along the line still call and ask for you to do something. You just can't say no. I am going over to Rowan County next Saturday night to a Republican dinner, post primaries, I think. There is not a single thing that says I should do that, except I just know inside, I can't not do it.
JACK FLEER:
You said it has a serious impact on family. Can you talk about that a little bit more?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well, I think wives have the hardest time during the administration. The governor has lots of people pulling and tugging and people wanting him to do things. You have got things to keep you busy. When the newspapers shoot at you you either address that or ignore it whatever. But the wife can't do a thing but just sit there and take it. It is harder having somebody say something about the person you love than having it said about you in a way, at least that is how I feel. I haven't had many people say bad things about Pat so I'll speak from experience. That is how it seems. Over the years I have watched spouses have much more a difficult time with events than the people who are directly involved. For our daughter, the four years was a lot of good things. She got to see parts of the country and the world that she couldn't see otherwise. Had a whole different perspective about the highway patrol because they were around all the time. She considers them her best buddies. She also has no hesitancy about walking up to any state agency and walking through the front door or calling and saying I have got to come see you about something.
JACK FLEER:
Now.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Yes. And she would not hesitate to pick up the phone and call Carolyn Hunt about something. I am not sure she has but I know she wouldn't hesitate.
JACK FLEER:
It is the confidence to do that.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
And yet she endured some things during those four years just because she was always the governor's daughter wherever she went to school and that set her apart. There were some down sides to that that weren't serious fortunately. But it is things that I think parents have to work really hard not to let kids get sort of lost in all of this that is going on.
JACK FLEER:
I remember you saying earlier that whenever you finally decided to run for the office of governor you said to your wife, you either have to run for governor or get out of politics, things had come to that level. So I assume that your wife and by extension that your daughter was part of the decision to run for the office.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well Ginny wasn't. Pat definitely was and she had been supportive all the way through. And my father, even though he didn't think I stood a prayer I don't think, once I decided that I was going to do it, supported me all the way. When I say all the way he signed a second mortgage on our house and he signed a note.
JACK FLEER:
On the line for it?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
That is right. Put your money where your mouth is or a risk of losing money. He and my mother looked after Ginny during the time that Pat and I were both on the road during the campaign. I am not sure that we appreciated how much effort that they put in during that year. Even after it was over with. It was one of those things that you do inside the family, just a normal thing that was happening. But looking back, they probably did as much for that campaign as anybody just in terms of looking after our daughter and looking after all the things that I couldn't look after and Pat couldn't look after because we were gone.
JACK FLEER:
Did you take any special measures or decisions to try to maintain some kind of "normal" family life?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well I suspect that Pat probably did more thinking about that than I did. We made a point of having breakfast every morning together. That wasn't the case at dinners that you attended where you had people coming in and Ginny couldn't be part of that. And we made a point of marking on the calendar when she was going to have some kind of event at school so that I wasn't off in Charlotte or Timbuktu. Because you have got some places you can go every night you just have to schedule those that you have to work around with all the rest. And it is, I think Pat was relieved to get out of the spotlight fish bowl and she would not be enthusiastic if I decided I wanted to run again. She would probably say I have been there and I didn't particularly enjoy it the first time and I know I don't want to do it again. She would probably do it if I really got my heart into it. She probably would do it with enthusiasm to help win once we got into it. But up until I decided she would be encouraging me not to do it probably. Ginny on the other hand I think if the situation arrived would love to run for office.