Jim Harrington who died on New Year’s Day at age 92, had an unusual business and political career that helped shape the state from mountains to coast.
A New Hampshire native and Virginia Military Institute graduate, Jim both grew up and died in Southern Pines, where he worked for the Pinehurst resort company for 20 years, including six as president, when it was controlled by descendants of founder James Walker Tufts. The Tufts sold the business for $9 million in 1970 to industrialist Malcolm McLean, whose Diamondhead Corp. struggled to run the resort. In 1984, the Dallas-based Dedman family took over and remain in charge of a now-thriving operation.
Jim was a Republican who worked as secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Economic Resources from 1973-76 under Gov. Jim Holshouser and secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation from 1985-89 under Gov. Jim Martin. His tenure coincided with the establishment of the State Zoo in Asheboro and the state’s Highway Trust Fund, which has financed a statewide network of four-lane highways and loops around several cities.
His business career mostly involved real estate development, much of it in partnership with Texas investor and real estate developer Walter Davis, a major financial contributor to many N.C. powerbrokers, including Holshouser and former N.C. State Sen. Marc Basnight of Manteo, a Democrat who was Senate President Pro Tem from 1993-2010.
Harrington helped develop Sugar Mountain Resort, igniting North Carolina’s ski industry. He also was a key player at Kildaire Farms, the first planned-unit development in Cary in 1974; Southern Shores in Dare County; and Bald Head Island in Brunswick County, much of it with Davis’ backing.
“I remember Jim talking about how he wrote a $1 million check to Carolina Power & Light to lay a power line to connect with Bald Head Island,” says Robert Briggs, whose wife, Stephanie, is Harrington’s stepdaughter. The island was later sold to the Mitchell family of Texas, whose late billionaire patriarch George Mitchell pioneered hydraulic fracking.
“Jim was the voice of the things that Walter Davis cooked up to do,” Robert Briggs says. “He was one of North Carolina’s greatest residents.”
Harrington had five children from two previous marriages. His wife for the last 30-plus years was Ann Quarterman Duncan, a former state legislator from Winston-Salelm and chair of the N.C. Employment Security Commission.
Gov. Martin, a longtime friend, called Harrington “a brilliant and dedicated man who served the state in many ways” in a career “marked by sound policy judgment, highly competent managerial skills and significant innovations.”