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Longtime UNC President Friday Memorialized

Bill Friday
UNC Chapel Hill

More than a thousand people gathered today in Memorial Hall on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill to remember Bill Friday. The longtime UNC system president and TV show host died last week at the age of 92.

At precisely 10 o’clock this morning, on UNC system campuses across the state, bells tolled for Bill Friday. They rang 17 times, one for every campus in the system he helped build.  A few moments after the bells at South Building in Chapel Hill fell silent, current UNC system president Tom Ross spoke to mourners gathered in Memorial Hall, and tried to put Friday’s career and life in perspective. He started at the beginning.

Tom Ross: "On May 8, 1957, in his inaugural address, president Friday said these words: 'It is with you, the people of North Carolina, that I have entered into solemn compact today. It is to you that I have pledged my mind, my heart, my hands, and my strength.'"

For 30 years Bill Friday did just that, growing the University system from 3 campuses to 17. He also hosted a popular show on UNC TV from 1971 until this year. And he did it all with an understated, personal style that was incredibly effective. Former Governor Jim Hunt.

Jim Hunt: "You see the secret of Bill Friday wasn’t just what he did. He did a lot. It’s what he got us to do.
Friday used those powers of persuasion on students, faculty, chancellors, business leaders, and, especially, those in state government."

Hunt: "The legislators would see him often. And they would know what he was coming for. And they would give it gladly."

It didn’t hurt that the Friday was a former Mayor’s son from Dallas, North Carolina, or that he attended Wake Forest, NC State, and UNC Chapel Hill. Or that he had a down-home sense of humor.  C.D. Spangler was a protégé and Friday’s successor as president of the UNC system. He recalled that Friday wasn’t keen on the thought of using his full-name on the office stationary.

Spangler: "And he said do you know what the C in my name stands for? And I said no, I know it’s William C Friday. He said the C stands for Clyde. Every mule in western North Carolina is named Clyde.
When he retired as the UNC system president 26 years ago, Friday stayed involved in those causes he felt most strongly about. They included the corrupting influence of college sports and the affordability of higher education. TV personality Charlie Rose says Friday’s legacy will endure."

Charlie Rose: "It is this university that is his monument. He grabbed it, even though it had been started in 1793, and he took it in the second half of the 20th century and he crafted it into one of the finest state universities this nation has ever seen."

After the memorial, more than a few mourners made the short walk here, to the old Chapel Hill cemetery on UNC’s campus. Bill Friday was buried in a plot next to his daughter, Betsy, in a private ceremony yesterday. This is a perfect spot for Friday to rest. It’s in Chapel Hill, just a short walk from where he lived and worked for nearly 70 years. But it’s also just a few feet away from students walking to class, or performing in the dramatic arts, practicing football and playing soccer and basketball, or studying in classrooms or in the library. In other words, it’s a vibrant and forward-thinking college campus, and Bill Friday is right in the middle of all of it… where he always wanted to be.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Politics and Education. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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