Our man Friday

Bill Friday brings out the best in our state.

By Tom Campbell

[07.09.04] — In a highly unusual, but very appropriate gesture, our state Legislature paid tribute to one of North Carolina’s heroes, William Friday. The action was significant for several reasons.

The history of North Carolina documents the right persons rising to challenges at precisely the right moment. When we look at our modern history, it must be concluded that William Friday was one who followed those great traditions.

Bill Friday epitomizes the best in North Carolinians.

He was born here, educated in our public schools and universities and, with the exception of service in the military, has spent his life here. Friday was suddenly thrust into leadership in his selection to be president of a three-campus university system.

When the decisions was made to consolidate state-owned colleges into a single system, he was once again named to head up the fledgling effort that many predicted couldn’t and wouldn’t work.

Friday’s story is one of an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances.

Don’t be misled: There is nothing ordinary about Bill Friday, but there is no question that he was put in extraordinary circumstances.

Friday rose to the occasion and became our compass, pointing us to true north. He did the work, learned fast, built consensus, and developed a vision for what the University of North Carolina could become.

And he did all this without sacrificing principle or backing away from controversy.

Bill Friday never took the expedient way in favor of doing what he believed was the right way. All was done in a humble demeanor without regard to personal reputation or gain.

He wasn’t afraid of a fight; in fact, he didn’t always win, but he never gave up on his vision for the university or the people of North Carolina.

Bill Friday brings out the best in us. He inspires us to be a better people and a better place to live and work.

We are blessed to have his influence, but we must also ask where are today’s Bill Fridays? Where are those who have the vision? Who know the right, will stand firm for the right, and are willing to put doing right before personal considerations? Where are those who make us want to be better?

We celebrate the life of William Friday, both his past accomplishments and current wisdom in our state. We hope he will continue to inspire us for many more years.

But knowing him, I suspect he would say the greatest tribute we could pay him was to rise to whatever circumstances we find ourselves and to become all we were intended to be in everything we do.

Friday’s living legacy demands no less. We cannot let him, ourselves or our state down.


Tom Campbell is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide issues discussion, and a member of the board of directors of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which publishes the Philanthropy Journal.

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