William Friday dies at 92; hosted UNC-TV’s North Carolina People for 41 years

By Dru Sefton

William Friday, a past president of University of North Carolina and longtime host of North Carolina People with William Friday on UNC-TV, died Oct. 12 in his Chapel Hill home. He was 92.

The program aired for 41 years, with Friday interviewing some 2,000 of the state’s writers, educators, athletes, politicians and other personalities. The first episode of the new season, an interview with retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ran on Aug. 3.

“We haven’t made a determination yet about the future of the program,” UNC-TV spokesman Steve Volstad told the local News & Observer. “Although in our internal discussions we agreed that North Carolina People and William Friday are essentially synonymous, and it’s hard to imagine it without him.”

He was born in Raphine, Va., to David Latham Friday and Mary Elizabeth Rowan Friday. He graduated in 1941 from North Carolina State College, and married Ida Willa Howell in 1942. During World War II, Friday served for four years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Immediately after the war, he enrolled in UNC’s law school, from which he graduated in 1948.

Soon after, he began his career at UNC Chapel Hill as assistant dean of students, then administrative assistant, and secretary of the university. In 1956, at the age of 35, Friday was elected president of the university by the trustees. He retired in 1986.

His numerous honors include the National Humanities Medal presented by President Clinton, membership in the Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Council on Education’s National Distinguished Service Award for Lifetime Achievement, the NCAA’s Gerald R. Ford Award, the UNC Board of Governors’ University Award, and the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest honor. In 1986, a Council for Advancement and Support of Education study ranked Friday as the nation’s most effective public university president. He held more than 20 honorary degrees.

He was preceded in death by daughter Betsy Friday and brothers David Latham Friday Jr., Rutherford Rowan Friday, and John Ralph Friday. He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Ida; daughter Fran Friday (Jack Mullen); daughter Mary Leadbetter (Jon Leadbetter); sister Betty Harris; a granddaughter, grandson and great-grandson.

UNC-Chapel Hill will host a public memorial service in Memorial Hall at 10 a.m. Wednesday. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials be made to several scholarships previously established in President Friday’s name.

  • Silence Dogood

    Let us hope that all readers will let the UNC-TV management know that Dr. Friday’s “North Carolina People” should continue even with a new host who could never totally fill this giant’s shoes. The local talk is that the management will now kill off this program. It would be very sad to see this showcase of the best of North Carolina abuptly ended by those notoriously lukewarm to local programming or anything related to the State of North Carolina.

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