October 30, 2013
William Friday has been dead a year now, and we still don’t know how we are going to get along without him. He was a living monument to all that is, or was, right with our state. Optimism, confidence in the basic goodness of others, respect for those who disagreed, and a relentless commitment to the improvement of the health and opportunity for every North Carolinian were just some of the William Friday package that inspired so many of us.
And we miss on UNC-TV his introductions on “North Carolina People” of folks he thought we ought to get to know.
How do we hold on to these good things, now that he is gone?
His biographer, William Link, also wonders, saying, “It’s hard to imagine North Carolina without Bill Friday’s protective umbrella.” Link continues, “His monument is the University of North Carolina itself, and its continued vitality in the life of the state was his passion. There are few people who had as important an impact, who were as persistently concerned about the welfare of the state, who possessed as clear a vision, and who practiced as effective an ability to accomplish things.”
As time passes after Friday’s death, we can begin to put his life in historical perspective. Link is ready. He writes, “Surely, he was one of the two or three more important public figures in 20th-century North Carolina, and one of the two or three people, along with Clark Kerr of the University of California, who helped to shape the modern American university.”
Earlier this month UNC Press released a revised edition of Link’s book, “William Friday: Power, Purpose, and American Higher Education.” Link has added a new chapter that covers Friday’s life and work during the last 20 active years of his life. In addition to his weekly television program, he continued to press for reform in college athletics, pointing out at every opportunity the dangers of transferring control of sports from the campus to the entertainment business.
Notwithstanding his declining health, Friday continued this crusade until a few days before his death on Oct. 12, 2012.
According to Link, on October 3, Friday met with Washington Post reporter Liz Clarke for her planned story on the commercialization of college sports and “how things had unraveled at Chapel Hill.”
Arriving at Friday’s home at 9:30 a.m. for a planned 15-minute conversation, Clarke found Friday with “bright and sparkly” eyes, “dressed as always, in a coat, tie and perfectly ironed dress slacks,” and “completely on point.”
Clarke said that Friday was “totally consumed with the question of what to do with college sports.”
When the time came for the interview to end, Friday insisted to Clarke, “I’m going to keep you as long as I can. I’m not finished. Turn the tape recorder back on.”
The tape recorder is now off for good. But thanks to William Link and his revised book, we can still hear the echoes of William Friday’s voice and be enlightened and inspired by his words and his example.