William Clyde Friday
William Clyde Friday, a devoted husband and father who served for thirty years as president of the multi-campus University of North Carolina, passed away peacefully with his wife by his side at his Chapel Hill home on Oct. 12, 2012. He was 92.
His death came on University Day, the 219th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of Old East on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. Many of those who attended University Day placed flowers around the Old Well as they left the commemoration. One mourner observed, "The sky is a little less Carolina Blue today."
Friday was best known for his long service as UNC president and for his forty years as the host of "North Carolina People," the UNC-TV program that aired every Friday night, where he characteristically interviewed those ranging from major public officials to North Carolina citizens from all walks of life. The University and the state of North Carolina were his vocation and avocation. His entire career was devoted to the University and to the state he loved, and upon his retirement from the presidency, he began a new career in public service. A prelude to this second career was his service as chairman of the Commission on the Year 2000, where in his final report he directed the attention of the state to the terrible plight of those citizens living in poverty. Immediately thereafter, he became Executive Director of the William Rand Kenan Charitable Trust, where he worked with its trustees in supporting the National Program for Family Literacy and a wide range of other programs devoted to education and the arts. Through all these years, he found his strength and his greatest joy in the loving support of his beloved wife, Ida, and their three daughters.
When he wasn't working, he enjoyed going to the farmers' markets in Raleigh and Carrboro, sharing his bounty with friends and neighbors. He cherished spending time with his family at Kill Devil Hills in the summers and had fun making peanut brittle to share with friends every Christmas. He was a lifelong learner, expressing an avid interest in all areas of life.
Born in Raphine, Va., to David Latham Friday and Mary Elizabeth Rowan Friday, he spent his boyhood in Dallas, N.C., where his father was a textile machinery company executive and president and owner of Gastonia Belting and Supply Company. In Dallas schools, he was a debater, played baseball and basketball, and wrote sports news for The Gastonia Gazette. He enjoyed the story told by his friend Dick Spangler that the proprieter of a country store and gas station remarked that if Bill Friday had stayed in baseball he might have amounted to something.
After a year at Wake Forest College, he entered North Carolina State College as a student in the School of Textiles, planning to follow in his father's footsteps. There he became class president and earned his degree in 1941. He was the first senior class president to be asked to speak at commencement exercises. In his senior year- on a blind date arranged by one of his friends- he met Ida Willa Howell, a student at Meredith College from Lumberton, North Carolina. She became the love of his life and they were married in 1942.
During World War II, Friday served his country for four years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Immediately after, he enrolled in UNC's law school. He was president of the Law School Association and graduated in 1948 in a class that included William Aycock; William A. Dees, Jr.; John R. Jordan, Jr.; Dickson Phillips; and Terry Sanford.
After graduating from law school and passing the state bar examination, he was asked to serve as assistant dean of students at UNC Chapel Hill. UNC President Gordon Gray later appointed him as his administrative assistant and then Secretary of the University. Impressed by his abilities, the Board of Trustees chose to make him acting president when Mr. Gray resigned to accept an appointment in Washington. In 1956, at the age of 35, the trustees elected him as President of the University.
As UNC president, he vigorously defended academic freedom, which he regarded as "the right of the university to exist." He worked tirelessly for repeal of the 1963 Speaker Ban Law. He oversaw the racial desegregation of the University. He helped mediate between student activists and state legislators during the civil rights movement. He believed strongly that the University must always be accessible to all students, regardless of their financial means.
He oversaw the expansion of the University of North Carolina. In response to increasing enrollments in higher education, he recommended to the state legislature the expansion of the University with the inclusion of UNC Charlotte in 1965 and UNC Wilmington and UNC Asheville in 1969. Two years later there was a special session of the General Assembly. That session enacted legislation making all public senior institutions a part of the University of North Carolina, with a Board of Governors and a president responsible for the governance and administration of the 16 institutions. President Friday was promptly chosen to be the head of the newly created 16-campus university.
President Friday was by this time a prominent figure in national affairs dealing with higher education. He was one of the members of the influential Carnegie Commission on Higher Education. He hosted the meeting of the commission in Chapel Hill in 1968. It was in a meeting in the faculty lounge in the Morehead Planetarium Building that the commission adopted a set of recommendations that led to the approval by Congress of the Basic Education Opportunity Grants, now called Pell Grants, promoting on the national level his lifelong goal of expanding access to higher education for all Americans.
His love of sports led him to lead a national effort to reform intercollegiate athletics. With the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame, Friday was founding co-chair of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which worked to restore integrity to college sports. He was co-chair from 1989 to 2005 and remained a prominent national voice in defending the integrity of the university against abuses in athletic programs.
During the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, he played an important role in the creation of the White House Fellows Program. Later on, President Carter asked him to serve as an advisor on issues pertaining to higher education. He was sought after for many influential state and national education boards and commissions. He chaired commissions on poverty and literacy for two North Carolina governors. Working with Gov. Luther Hodges and business leaders, he helped in the creation of the Research Triangle Park, and later led efforts to bring the National Humanities Center to the Research Triangle.
Friday's numerous honors include the National Humanities Medal given by President Clinton, membership in the Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Council on Education's National Distinguished Service Award for Lifetime Achievement, the John Hope Franklin Award, the NCAA's Gerald R. Ford Award, the UNC Board of Governors' University Award, and the North Carolina Award, the state's highest honor. In 1986, a Council for Advancement and Support of Education study ranked Friday as the nation's most effective public university president. He held more than 20 honorary degrees. Both he and Ida received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award during a special session of the N.C. General Assembly in 2004.
Friday was predeceased by his daughter Betsy Friday and brothers David Latham Friday Jr., Rutherford Rowan Friday, and John Ralph Friday. Survivors are his wife of 70 years, Ida; daughter Fran Friday and husband Jack Mullen; granddaughter Miranda Shook, and husband Tristan Shook, 7 month old great-grandson Wiley Shook; and grandson Walker Mullen, all of Chapel Hill; daughter Mary Leadbetter and husband Jon Leadbetter, of Singapore; sister Betty Harris of Sumter, S.C.; sister-in-laws, Lila Friday of Raleigh and Mary Katherine Friday Lockett of Gastonia; and numerous nieces and nephews.
The family particularly wants to express its deepest appreciation to all doctors, nurses, therapists, and caregivers who provided Mr. Friday with the best possible care.
UNC-Chapel Hill will host a public memorial service in Memorial Hall on Wednesday, October 17th at 10 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials be made to one of the several scholarships previously established in President Friday's name. A full list will be available on the universities websites.
Published in The News & Observer on Oct. 14, 2012