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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

‘Bill Friday: In His Own Words’

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In 1988, Friday was invited by President George H. W. Bush to participate in a meeting that included members of the American Council of Education.


Friday poses in his Navy uniform. Image from the William C. Friday Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill

For more than a half-century, William C. “Bill” Friday was the face of higher education in North Carolina.

But a year after his death, it is his voice that will take center stage in the exhibit “Bill Friday: In His Own Words,” on display in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibit Room of the Wilson Special Collections Library through Dec. 31.

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Friday pushes daughters Mary and Betsy on swings. Image from the William C. Friday Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill

Throughout his life, Friday’s influence was deep and far-reaching, but the power of his words – about many of the causes he believed in – will likely endure as well, said Biff Hollingsworth, the programming archivist with the Southern Historical Collection who spearheaded the project.


Athletic director for North Carolina State University Roy Clogston, president of the Consolidated University of North Carolina William Friday and chairman of the Stadium Committee Walker Martin at the groundbreaking for Carter Stadium, December 14, 1964. Image from NCSU Libraries’ Digital Collections: Rare and Unique Materials.

“The exhibit came together around the question of ‘How could we ever tell the story of Bill Friday?’” Hollingsworth said. “Certainly, part of that story was his decades-long career as UNC president, but beyond that, how could we cover the sweep of his life outside of a few exhibit cases.”

They found the answer within the vaults of the Southern Oral History Program, which has some 40 recordings of interviews with Friday about his life and career.

As president of the UNC system for three decades, Friday piloted higher education in North Carolina through a period of turbulent growth and change, including the expansion of the university system from three campuses to 16.

He was also a central figure in many statewide and national issues.

In North Carolina, Friday was a force behind initiatives for economic development, literacy and access to health care. At the national level, he served on many influential boards, including the President’s Task Force on Education, and was an advocate for access to education, federal student aid and the reform of big-time college sports.

The quotations featured in the exhibit were taken from oral history interviews, Friday’s personal papers and University records, which are a part of the special collections at Carolina.

There are several different components to the exhibit.

An online exhibit at delves further into Friday’s legacy and features audio clips of Friday speaking on topics that range from his family, to the university system, to college athletics. Finally, posters placed around the Carolina campus depict different aspects of Friday’s lifetime of service to higher education.

The constellation of information pays tribute to Friday, who died Oct. 12, 2012, at the age of 92. During his 30-year tenure as UNC president, Friday earned a national reputation for his unwavering support of academic freedom, fairness and integrity. For four decades, he was a familiar television presence as host of the UNC-TV interview show “North Carolina People with William Friday.”

Find more information about the exhibit.

Friday on his commitment to public service:

“I like to feel that the real measurement of anyone’s life is whether or not you’ve made a useful difference.”

Listen: Bill Friday on his generation and public service

Listen: Bill Friday and the University and public service

Friday on early life and family:

“The children and I’d take a walk every time we could. When they were little they walked the rock walls. And I’d held those little hands 1,000 times up and down Franklin Street, waiting on them to learn to walk the sidewalk.”

Listen: Bill Friday on the impact of the Depression and war on his life

Friday on sports reform:

“In the city of Raleigh, that particular event [the Dixie Classic] had become a major income-producer, running into the millions of dollars. But it had to go, because it was out of control, and no one was disciplining it.”

Listen: Bill Friday on the Dixie Classic