HBill Friday believed eeply
by Beth McNichol ’ 95
and David E. Brown ’ 75
e was the citizen’s TV host, and he
didn’t need hardball questions to get at the
essence of his subjects — about 2,000 of
them — whose talks comprise an ample
history of 20th-century North Carolina.
He was a fierce and clever fighter when
the universities or the other important
institutions were attacked, but a fighter
who knew when to let impossibly contentious battles play out while he rearmed
and re-strategized to fight still stronger
He was a better-than-average baseball
player, taken aback and gradually sickened
by aspects of the games he found decidedly
unsportsmanlike, and he cried out, sometimes in a wilderness.
A quarter century after the conclusion
of his 30-year presidency of the UNC System, he still came in mornings to a small
office in the Graham Memorial, where
you could visit but you never could have
audience with him. Then, as always
before, he had audience with you.
After his heart tried to quit on him last
summer, he was back in front of the cam-
era. He hit 92 but never retired.
Is this his epitaph? As tuition at UNC
System universities started on a steepening
curve in recent years, he begged us to
remember: If you can get me there — by
your standards — I can make something of
myself; but to shut me out from the start
because I can’t afford it is fundamentally
wrong for our public universities, the universities of you and me.
William C. Friday ’ 48 (LLB) died on
the morning of Oct. 12, University Day.
He was called, repeatedly, the most impor-
tant North Carolinian of his century.
History will remember Friday as a sen-
sible agent for his enduring lessons on race,
politics and free speech, as a defender of
the good of higher education in society.