The University of North Carolina has confirmed the sad news that William Friday, a longtime president of the college and co-founder of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, died Friday in Chapel Hill. He was 92.
“North Carolina has lost one of its most remarkable citizens in Bill Friday. His influence on public higher education in our state and across the nation is legendary,” said UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp in a statement. “In a lifetime devoted to public service, Bill Friday was committed to providing access to high-quality, affordable higher education to North Carolina students. He was tireless in his efforts to underscore the importance of higher education to people from all walks of life, as well as to our state’s future prosperity.”
Born in 1920 Raphine, Virginia, Friday grew up in Dallas, North Carolina during the Great Depression.
Though widely associated with Chapel Hill, he was actually graduated from UNC rival N.C. State University, earning a degree in textiles in 1941.
A year after his graduation, Friday married Ida Howell and served in the US Naval Reserve. After World War II, he entered Carolina’s law school, where he was president of the Law School Association and graduated in 1948.
USA Today notes that after graduating from UNC’s law school in 1948, Friday began his career in the university system as assistant dean of students.
In 1951, he became assistant to Gordon Gray, the president of the system which at the time included three universities – North Carolina, N.C. State and Woman’s College, which is now UNC-Greensboro.
He was named president in 1956 after serving as secretary for a year.
Charlotte Business Journal reports that before retiring in 1986, Friday served three decades at the helm of the UNC system during a period of rapid change. During his tenure as president, he often served as mediator between student activists and the N.C. General Assembly during the civil-rights movement, and he worked for five years to repeal the 1963 Speaker Ban Law, which made it illegal for critics of the government to appear on campus.
On his watch, he also oversaw the racial desegregation of the university and its expansion from three campuses to six and finally to 16.
“Bill Friday embodied all that is good about North Carolina,” said Jim Hunt, former North Carolina governor. “Long after he is gone, his spirit will live on in the University of North Carolina System. He was a product of it. He built it. He loved it. It will be his eternal monument.”