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.