CHAPEL HILL (AP) — Officials from state government and higher education joined politicians and TV celebrities at a memorial service Wednesday to honor the legacy of former University of North Carolina President William Friday.
Hundreds of people gathered at Memorial Hall on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus to honor Friday, who died last Friday at his home in Chapel Hill. He was 92.
C.D. Spangler, the Charlotte businessman who became UNC system president after Friday’s tenure, described his predecessor as “the most significant education leader in North Carolina of the 20th century.”
UNC President Tom Ross said Friday’s life was not just well served, but lived in as extraordinary a manner as any the state has ever seen.
Ross said Friday made the hard seem effortless, and he kept a promise he made in his inaugural speech on May 8, 1957, when he became president, entering a “solemn compact” with the people of North Carolina.
“President William Clyde Friday, you kept your pledge,” Ross said during the service. “You gave your all. And we, the university and the state are better because of you.”
Gov. Bev Perdue recalled her conversations with Friday, noting the philosophy he championed until his death — that a good education in North Carolina “was a birthright.”
“He simply believed in education,” Perdue said. “He believed that for all of us, not some of us, education was that silver bullet that could change our lives.”
Former Gov. Jim Hunt called Friday “our state’s greatest builder” and said he had “big, ambitious, audacious goals” for North Carolina and its residents. Hunt also said Friday was a master of calling on political leaders to bandy about his ideas for the state.
“He’d call up and say chief — he’d always call us chief — and say, ‘Chief, I’ve got a little matter I’d like to talk to you about,’” Hunt said.
A meeting would be scheduled, the men would go to a room in the governor’s mansion and talk.
“He was full of ideas,” Hunt recalled.
To Mary Leadbetter and her sister, however, Friday was simply “Papa Bill,” a man who taught his family the value of education and moral leadership but never took himself too seriously.
Leadbetter recalled one morning years ago when a student was found sleeping on a downstairs couch after entering the unlocked front door of the family’s Franklin Street home. Friday counseled the man, who accepted an invitation to return to the home with his own student group, Leadbetter said.
“Daddy never met a stranger,” she said. “Every person, every experience was an opportunity for greater understanding, compassion and service.”
Among those in attendance was Dick Taylor, a Lumberton businessman who is a member of the Board of Governors. Taylor recalled for The Robesonian his last conversation with Friday, who he first met in 1948. He said Friday had called him to express his concern that tuition not be raised on UNC System campuses — a sentiment Taylor said he shared.
Perdue declared Wednesday as Bill Friday Day. Flags have been flying at half-staff at all state facilities since Friday’s death, and bell towers at various UNC campuses rang out in his honor Wednesday morning.