On the morning of University Day, we were planning for the honoring of our distinguished alumna and alumnus awards and getting ready for the ceremony where Jamie Bartram would talk about The Water Institute and its work. Before I left for the office, I got a text from News Services that said, ‘please call. urgent’. When I called, I found out Mr. Friday had passed away in his sleep during the night. I knew then that we needed to rewrite the script for the ceremony. By the time I got to the office, all that was underway.
It occurred to me right at that moment the extraordinary symbolism of Bill Friday’s death occurring on University Day. I had just watched the John Adams biography this summer, and it made me think about John Adams and Thomas Jefferson dying on July 4. (The News and Observer mentioned that point in their story, as well.)
The University Day ceremony in Memorial Hall was unforgettable. We talked about Mr. Friday and his legacy, and Jamie Bartram gave a great talk about our work on water. Mr. Friday would have approved of our looking beyond ourselves and our campus to such a great problem. He was so concerned about equity and the ability of others to access resources.
The smart people I work with got flowers and organized the placing of those flowers at the Old Well by the processional. It was just the right tribute.
North Carolina 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. 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.
I always admired his conviction to defend academic freedom and freedom of speech. It was only fitting that Mr. Friday joined us a year ago – on University Day – to dedicate the Speaker Ban Marker in McCorkle Place documenting the efforts that our own students and he made to overturn a misguided law.
Mr. Friday was exceedingly gracious in sharing his wise counsel with me when I became chancellor. Whenever he wanted to see me, he always made an appointment to come to South Building. I told him how much I liked walking over to Hooper Lane to see him, but he always insisted on coming to my office. When I was a young faculty member, I used to go see him at Graham Memorial, and in all those talks, his keen insights and common sense were unparalleled. Like so many others throughout North Carolina, I will miss Bill Friday, but I know that his legacy – especially at our University – will always live on for future generations.