Obituary for John Skvarla

John Skvarla, a longtime Raleigh attorney and business executive who rose to lead two North Carolina cabinet agencies, died Tuesday morning at age 73. Skvarla peacefully passed away with his family by his side in Pinehurst where he lived. The cause of death was complications from Hodgkin lymphoma, which Skvarla had battled vigorously since early this year.

Preceding him in death were his parents: John E. Skvarla, Jr., an engineer who was an early selection for the Manhattan Project in addition to holding numerous U.S. patents, and Mona C. Skvarla, who was a native of Hamlet, N.C. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Eney Skvarla. The couple’s 50-year marriage sprang from a courtship that began when the two were sophomores in college. Also surviving him are a son, John Matthew Skvarla, and his wife, Lauren Ezell Skvarla of Charlotte, N.C., and a daughter, Catherine Skvarla Cutshall, and her husband, Jeffrey Hayes Cutshall of Dallas, Texas; two sisters, Jennifer Skvarla of Pantego, N.C., and Teresa Hogan of Niagara Falls, N.Y.; three grandchildren: Winton Hayes Cutshall (age 10), Avery Elizabeth Cutshall (9) and John Edward Skvarla IV (16 months); and many nieces and nephews.

Born in Oak Ridge, Tenn., but raised in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., John Edward Skvarla, III, was born July 28, 1948. He earned a B.A. in economics from Manhattan College shortly before arriving in North Carolina to enroll at the UNC School of Law in Chapel Hill. He earned his J.D. there in 1973. In 1978, Skvarla founded the law firm Skvarla, Wyrick, Robbins (now Wyrick Robbins) in Raleigh, serving as senior partner and building a formidable reputation as a leading expert on the legal aspects of public and private capital formation. He embarked on a high-level business career in the 1980s, serving as Chief Operating Officer for The Aviation Group, Inc., which became the world’s largest all-cargo airline under Skvarla’s leadership. He went on to become the CEO of ProActive Therapy, which he left following its successful sale to NovaCare. Additionally, he taught classes in business law as an adjunct faculty member at Meredith College and North Carolina State University.

His career also included managing businesses providing environmental products and services. Skvarla served as Chairman of Wilkinson Hi-Rise, a manufacturer of waste management and automated recycling systems. It was during his tenure as CEO of Restoration Systems, a Raleigh-based environmental firm specializing in wetlands mitigation and waterway management, that Skvarla caught the attention of transition officials with the newly elected administration of Governor Pat McCrory. His appointment as Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR, now DEQ) came in December 2012. At DENR, Skvarla worked to make compliance with the state’s environmental regulations more understandable and user-friendly. Governor McCrory appointed him Secretary of Commerce two years later. Skvarla’s real-world business experience, boundless energy and love of North Carolina made him a highly compelling salesman for the state, and his two years heading the Commerce Department resulted in major investments by Corning, Ashley Furniture, Novo Nordisk, Fidelity Investments and other leading companies. He worked with state legislators to modernize entrepreneurial finance policy, reshape film incentives and reauthorize the Job Development and Investment Grant program (JDIG), a key industrial recruitment tool.

Since leaving public service in early 2017, Skvarla worked as senior government relations advisor at Nexsen Pruet, helping growing businesses with early-stage finance, site selection and other strategic issues. Additionally, Skvarla served on numerous corporate and nonprofit boards. Several of those boards that brought him the most enjoyment included Anderson Automotive Group, Mako Medical, Rice Wrap Food Corporation, the NC Military Affairs Commission and the USS North Carolina Battleship Commission.

During his years in Raleigh and Pinehurst, Skvarla was an avid golfer and served as a member of the North Carolina Golf Panel. He relished traveling the state to play its best courses and chat with locals while visiting small-town hot dog stands. Skvarla cherished his moments as a father and grandfather, adored his wife Liz, and loved and supported the many friends and colleagues he accumulated across his one-of-a-kind life and career.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Foundation of FirstHealth ( or 150 Applecross Road, Pinehurst, NC 28374)

A celebration of life will be held Wednesday, July 27th, 11 a.m. at The Village Chapel, 10 Azalea Road

Pinehurst, NC 28374.

Online condolences may be made at

Services are entrusted to Boles Funeral Home of Pinehurst.

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