State leaders mourn passing of John Skvarla

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
FILE PHOTO: Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Commerce John Skvarla speaks at an event.

RALEIGH — John E. Skvarla III, former head of two major North Carolina cabinet agencies, passed away Tuesday, July 19, at the age of 73.

Skvarla passed away in Pinehurst under hospice care after being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. He is survived by his wife Liz who he had been married to for over 50 years, two children and three grandchildren.

A highly successful lawyer and business executive, Skvarla had served as the environmental secretary for two years before moving to the N.C. Department of Commerce Secretary in 2015 during the tenure of former Gov. Pat McCrory.

“North Carolina has lost a great public servant, friend and mentor to so many,” McCory tweeted Tuesday afternoon.

During his time at head of the Department of Environmental Quality, Skvarla oversaw the state’s response the coal ash spill from a Duke Energy containment pond along the Dan River near Greensboro in 2014. Skvarla’s hiring as Commerce Secretary replaced Sharon Decker, another McCrory hire who had been there nearly two years.

“In his time at the Commerce Department, John Skvarla helped advance our mission to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for all North Carolinians, and we honor his public service,” current Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders said in a statement.

Others also offered their condolences on Skvarla’s passing.

“Heaven gained a great man and a huge personality today. John Skvarla was tireless for North Carolina and my mentor and friend,” said Neal Robbins, publisher of the North State Journal and long-time friend of Skvarla.

“John’s passing was sad relief,” N.C. State Treasurer Dale Folwell said in a statement to North State Journal. “Sad that he’s no longer here and relieved that he’s no longer suffering and as former NC Secretary of Commerce lived to see NC catapult to number 1 in business according to CNBC.”

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) tweeted that he was “Deeply saddened by the passing of John Skvarla, who served as secretary of commerce & secretary of environment for North Carolina. He played a pivotal role in growing our economy & making NC the top state for business. My condolences go out to his family.”

State Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) told NSJ, “Secretary Skvarla will be missed by many but his presence and effort will leave an imprint on our state for decades to come. His influence, leadership and driving force as a business builder,  job creator will remain. We need more like John and though he would be hard to copy, those who believe in our state should seek to emulate him.”

“John Skvarla was a great husband, father, grandfather and public servant. Our prayers go out to John’s family along with thanks and praise for a life well lived,” said NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley.

Skvarla joined the law firm of Nexsen Pruet in 2017, where he was working as the Senior Government Relations Adviser at the time of his passing.

Prior to joining state government, Skvarla was a remarkably successful business executive leading an environmental mitigation firm and one of the largest physical therapy providers in the southeastern portion of the nation and the CEO of world’s largest all-cargo airline.

In the late 1970s, he founded and served as senior partner of what is now the Wyrick Robbins law firm in Raleigh and worked mainly on corporate and tax matters.

Skvarla had also been a member and leader of a lengthy list of different groups and organizations including ADFP Trust Fund Advisory Committee, Biotechnology Center Board of Directors, Board of Science Technology & Innovation, Clean Water Management Trust Fund, Coalition for Global Engagement, Duke Energy Community College Grant Program and the Global Transpark Authority Board.

Other groups he was involved with included NC Marine Industrial Park Authority, NC Military Affairs Commission, NC Works Commission, Rural Infrastructure Authority, State Banking Commission, Travel & Tourism Board, US Railroad Board of Directors, USS NC Battleship Commission, Water Infrastructure Authority, and Indian Affairs Commission.

In a 2017 interview when he joined Nexsen Pruet, Skvarla said, “The ability to bring together all of those experiences – from practicing law, to running an airline, to running an environmental mitigation company, to being in the healthcare business —I have had the greatest rocket ride and this is sort of the culmination of all those years of experiences.”

Skvarla held degrees from the University of North Carolina School of Law, J.D. (1973) and Manhattan College, B.A., Economics (1970).