John H. Hager, a tobacco ­company executive who entered Virginia politics as a business-friendly moderate and served as lieutenant governor from 1998 to 2002, died Aug. 23 at 83.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced the death but did not provide further details.

Mr. Hager, who had contracted polio in his mid-30s, made campaign stops in a wheelchair. He lost the 2001 GOP gubernatorial primary to state Attorney General Mark L. Earley, who had strong backing from the party’s evangelical Christian wing but was bested, 52 percent to 47 percent, in the general election by venture capitalist Mark R. Warner.

Warner, a centrist who emphasized fiscal conservatism in a state that remained a Republican legislative stronghold, was the state’s first Democratic gubernatorial candidate to win election in a dozen years. Mr. Hager went on to serve under Warner as Virginia’s homeland security director after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Mr. Hager’s newly created Office of Commonwealth Preparedness was a Cabinet-level post.

From 2004 to 2007, Mr. Hager was an assistant U.S. secretary of education, overseeing the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. He briefly was chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia but was forced out in 2008 in a conservative revolt. That year, his son Henry married Jenna Bush, a daughter of then-President George W. Bush.

John Henry Hager was born in Durham, N.C., on Aug. 28, 1936. He graduated in 1958 from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and then received a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University in 1960.

After a year of active-duty Army service, he joined American Tobacco Co., where his father also was an executive. He was in Richmond and rising quickly on the corporate track at the company — maker of Lucky Strike and Pall Mall cigarettes — when he contracted polio in August 1973 after his infant son received an oral dose of the live-virus Sabin vaccine.

The Washington Post reported in 1997: “He was still in Richmond one day when his back hurt so badly he lay down on his office floor to make calls. When he got home, he had to be carried to bed. By morning, paralysis had set in. Hager eventually was told he had gotten polio from his infant son’s vaccine, probably through [contact with] vomit or a soiled diaper.”

He endured months of rehabilitation and never regained use of his legs. He said he was denied a major promotion that would have taken him to New York. “They didn’t need an executive vice president in a wheelchair,” he told The Post.

He remained with the firm, rising to senior vice president, before retiring after the company sold its tobacco operations in 1994 to Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., the American subsidiary of London-based B.A.T. Industries.

Mr. Hager continued to defend tobacco interests as a consultant to Brown & Williamson and as a lobbyist for the firm, The Post reported. In a 1997 radio interview, he said, “Judging that over 20 million Americans have quit smoking, I don’t know how you can call the product addictive.”

In the 1970s, Mr. Hager’s volunteer and charitable work eventually led him to enter public service and Republican politics. He co-chaired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North’s failed senatorial campaign in 1994 before winning election as lieutenant governor on a ticket headed by state Attorney General James S. Gilmore III.

In 1971, he married Margaret “Maggie” Chase. In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Jack and Henry.

Mr. Hager participated in more than a dozen wheelchair marathons. “I’ve met a lot of challenges in my life,” he told an audience on the hustings in 1997. “It’s been a trail of turning challenge into opportunity.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this obituary incorrectly reported that Mark R. Warner in 2001 became the state’s first Democratic governor in a dozen years. He was the first Democrat to win a gubernatorial election in a dozen years, after L. Douglas Wilder was elected in 1989. The story has been revised.