The Best of William C. Friday

William C. (Bill) Friday and Suzy Barile
By Suzy Barile

            The phone rang at 11:27 a.m. Friday and my daughter asked, “Did you hear?”
            I'd heard.
            “Bill Friday died this morning,” she said. 
I knew. And she knew that I knew.
          Had my daughter been at UNC-Chapel Hill when Friday was assistant dean of students, or when he was assistant to the President of the Consolidated University, or when he was its secretary, or when he served 30 years as system president, her attention to his death would be understandable.
Jen didn’t graduate from UNC-Wilmington until 2004, long after Friday had retired as the second-longest serving UNC president since David L. Swain.  But ever since she was a little girl, as the fourth-great granddaughter of Swain, she’d been regaled with anecdotes of Swain’s 1835-68 service, with tales of when her Granny and Granddaddy were UNC students, and with stories of my college days in Chapel Hill.
The most notable story was about Parents Weekend of either my junior and senior year. My parents were in town, and as we strolled back across campus after the football game, a man hailed us.
“Hello, Don,” he said to my dad. And to my mom: “Hello, Wuff.”
It was Bill Friday, and he had not seen them in nearly 25 years when they were students and he was assistant dean. Because both were staff writers for The Daily Tar Heel, they had frequent interaction with him.
That he would remember their faces and their names was a marvel to me. Jen always loved that story.
But she also benefited from Bill Friday's work.
After he left his post as system president, he didn’t leave North Carolina and its students behind. He fought to keep college affordable, and to decrease illiteracy and help reduce poverty. He brought stories of North Carolina into homes across the state with his public television program “North Carolina People with Bill Friday.”
Hundreds of thousands of North Carolina students have enjoyed the education they have because of his tireless work on their behalf.
Yes, Jen knew Bill Friday.
My family’s story of his long memory, and his service and willingness to help others, is only one of many being shared with students of all ages as we mourn his death. Yet in that sadness, I can’t help but think he’s up in Tar Heel Blue heaven – enjoying a Wolfpack Red sunset (he did his undergrad at NC State) – and sharing tales with his long-serving predecessor, my great-great-great grandfather, David L. Swain.

A Southern Woman

Pansy Womble with Suzy Barile

A Southern Woman
The kindest, gentlest Southern woman I ever met died Tuesday. Pansy Womble taught me to how to cut up and fry a chicken, how to shell beans and make sweet iced tea, and how to dig for potatoes for mashing. She could bake a mean Pound Cake and to-die-for pecan and pumpkin pies, and she did it all while raising three children, working fulltime, and giving her best to her church, New Hill (NC) Baptist. Though she’d been ill for some time, the news of her death surprised me, and now the note I started to her this week about my summer gardening experience and how she inspired me will go unfinished, a tribute in its stead.
Pansy and her husband Wallace came into my life during my sophomore year in college when I began dating their youngest son. It was a tumultuous time in their lives: Carolina Power and Light had bought up thousands of acres to build a lake and adjacent park that would anchor its new nuclear power plant, and the Wombles’ land off NC 751 was in the project’s path.
When we met, they were preparing to move their house in the country outside of New Hill to within its unincorporated limits. But first they had to fix-up an old farm house to live in while their home was lifted from its foundation and trucked to the new site. And because Grandma Womble, who lived with them, was moving to her daughter Charlotte’s home in Raleigh, her small efficiency apartment at the rear of the house was to become a new master bedroom suite.
Despite this enormous lifestyle change, the Wombles opened their arms, inviting me, a “Navy brat, a city girl,” into their country world for many an enjoyable weekend. Sunday mornings when I visited were devoted to the 11 o’clock church service, followed by a dinner that Pansy had prepared before she left for Sunday School and featuring dishes I’d never tasted but grew to love -- turnip greens doused with vinegar, fried okra, and slow-cooked pinto beans.
Sunday afternoons were devoted to reading the newspaper and napping. But it was also a time when I learned what makes a country home truly that -- the garden. The afternoon Pansy told me to “dig me some potatoes for supper,” I looked at her like she was speaking a foreign language. She laughed heartily while handing me a spoon and told her son to take me out in the garden where the potato plants were starting to bloom and show me how to carefully turn over the soil to uncover the “new” potatoes she favored. I like to think that on those Saturday and Sunday afternoons, I was a help, that I did snap beans and shell peas and shuck corn before being instructed in how to blanch and freeze, though I truly don’t recall whether I did!
When my husband John and I moved in mid-November 2010 from Cary, a suburb of Raleigh, to three miles outside of the small town of Harmony, the first mission John undertook was to plant a winter garden. I wanted to get curtains hung and he was out putting in greens! The next summer, our garden was so large that we later admitted it was too much food for the two of us. We’d planted three rows of two kinds of green beans and one of butter beans, two rows of different peppers and one of okra, three rows of tomatoes, as well as rows of cucumber, zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant, plus enough basil to supply every restaurant in town! We froze and canned and gave away until no one wanted the bounty we had to share – I even took a basket of peppers to my students because they didn’t believe we really had a garden that size!
Through all the hard work -- heading outside first thing in the morning before the sun’s heat became unbearable, weeding by hand because we didn’t have a tiller, picking and freezing and canning and cooking – what was in the back of my mind was all I’d learned during two summers nearly 40 years ago under the loving guidance of Pansy Womble.
And that’s what was in the note I was composing to the kindest, gentlest Southern woman I ever met.
The following remembrance appeared in the Statesville (NC) Record & Landmark on Monday, May 7. Enjoy!

By Suzy Barile
As a community college English instructor, one of my fervent hopes is to interest students in reading more, for – I assure them – reading will make them become better writers. Often I steer them towards my favorite North Carolina authors: Reynolds Price, Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton, Alex Hailey, Joseph Mitchell, Suzanne Newton, Anne Tyler, Charles Frazier, O. Henry, Ellyn Bache, Gail Godwin, and Statesville’s own Doris Betts, who died this past weekend.

Though I planned to be a journalist when I entered UNC-Chapel Hill in 1973 at the start of my junior year, no one told me that outstanding and well-known writers frequently taught at universities, and that I should check out who was on the faculty before I signed up for any English classes. Without this valuable advice, I missed taking a class with Betts, who – like me – was a newspaper reporter before she became a teacher.

Instead, I was introduced to her work at a reading she gave of her award-winning The River to Pickle Beach. One insightful reviewer described it as “a probing look at life in a small North Carolina town [which] richly evokes the summer of 1968. A moving, sometimes startling portrait of people grappling with change and their need for love … [that] pulses with the reality of the contemporary South.” A wonderful review, but The River to Pickle Beach was so much more than that for me.

As I followed Betts’ main characters Jack and Bebe Sellars through a summer of managing several beach cottages and all that came with it – visits from long-lost Army buddies, the careful handling of a mentally-retarded woman placed in their care, racial inequality, even murders – I was awakened to a life I’d never experienced. Oh sure, I knew about the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the national turmoil that followed during the summer of 1968. And I had a mentally-handicapped aunt, although I didn’t quite grasp the significance of the challenges she presented to my grandparents, nor the care she required, until years later when it was too late to matter. Yet in all truthfulness, I was naïve.

The summer I met Betts, I was a budding journalist with a desire to remain in the South, but with much to learn. Within the pages of The River to Pickle Beach, she eloquently portrayed feelings of enduring love and compassion, and brought to life a place and time that I needed to know about – and begin to understand. For that insight, for what I took with me as I began my own journey, I will be forever indebted.

A Guest Blogger

NOTE: My daughter Jen is preparing to run a mini-marathon in September and is keeping a blog about her training and progress. I thought it's be fun to include one of her entries. Go to to read the rest of her entries!

Posted on Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"earning it" or "deserving it"

By Jen Brett

there are 2 important things i learned this week: 1. no matter how tiny, always wear a sports bra. 2. taking a week off makes a huge difference. next time i feel under the weather, i'm running anyways.

this post is inspired by my valentines day, it's a little sad but don't worry, everyone is happy in the end.

all thru my youth i played soccer. i wasn't great, but i really enjoyed it. in high school i was on jv until senior year when i made varsity. my mom will argue, but the only reason i (along with 3 other girls) made varsity is b/c seniors weren't allowed to play jv. we hardly played.

the thing about playing soccer with old raleigh money in the 90's soccer craze was there were a lot of girls with a lot of their parents money and they all had name brand gear. adidas was stamped across everything. my gear was mostly from kmart or jc penny, my duffle was the bag my mom got for running (and completing!) the 5k cary road race. i was 12, what did i know about name brands, it all seemed to serve it's purpose. after 2 years of not making the junior high team and dealing with the new money cary mean girls, i knew.

by the time i was in high school, my mom had remarried and i was able to spend a little extra money on my gear. i had adidas cleats, snap pants and duffel, all purchased on sale of course. the one thing i did not have but desperately wanted was the adidas warm up. i had no real need for it, but i wanted it. that's where making varsity comes in. see, all the varsity girls wore the same green and black adidas warm up every game day. we tried to do the same on jv but were told that was a "varsity thing."

senior year rolled around, i had to make varsity. even if i wasn't good enough, school rules prohibit seniors from playing jv. so i had finally "made" the cut, the coach was less than pleased. we all worked just as hard, did the same drills and then happily took our place in the sub order. finally, a week before the first game, the warm ups arrived for us to try on for size. rather than the typical adidas warm up i had been looking forward to, there was a not so great looking all black reebok. turns out the coach decided this year she wanted to "go in another direction" with the warms ups. i couldn't help but feel like the 4 scrubs were part of her decision making, like we hadn't earned the right to wear them. paranoid maybe, but that's how we were made to feel in that situation. the following year, she wasn't the coach anymore and the team was back to the old adidas warm ups, i just missed the cut.

now i know it's not good to put importance on name brands (unless it's technology and then it's gotta be a mac) but not having that warm up stuck with me. it's weird but i kinda felt like i didn't deserve it. like i'd worked just hard enough to not have the coach fight the school board to get me off the team but not hard enough to earn the gold medal of warm ups. for years i never purchased adidas gym clothes. it wasn't like i was a gym rat or anything, i just felt i was probably better suited to the champion rack at target (great stuff by the way).

while at dinner after attending the grammy's (fab life name drop) i told my beau the story, it really upset him. he's never been in that position. he ran cross country in high school, i mean no one gets cut from the track team if you finish, much better system i think. he also grew up with more money and less mean girls than i did. this year for valentines day i dug into the bag from my new fav chocolatier and next to the box of dark chocolates were an adidas jacket and pants. he felt like i deserved to have them, that everyone deserves to have what they want. now, i just have to work on earning the 13.1 mile rep :)