All over North Carolina, people are still grieving the loss of UNC President Emeritus William Friday.

At the same time they are enjoying sharing memories of how Friday touched them.
I want to be a part of the storytelling by sharing a few things I remember about visiting him in his office about three years ago to see if a heart incident and follow-up surgery had slowed him down.

“He’s slowed down a little bit, but not much,” his long-time assistant Virginia Taylor told me then. “He’s in the office two or three days a week, at least, for telephone calls, meetings and correspondence—and preparing for his television show. And he still goes places for events and to see people.”

Every week for more than 40 years, Friday interviewed important North Carolinians on UNC-TV’s “North Carolina People,” even recording a program this summer just a few weeks before he died. Recently he recorded most of his television near his office on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, but missed traveling to the far reaches of the state where he did some of his best interviews.

During my earlier visit, which was shortly before his 90th birthday, Friday told me his routine for regaining and maintaining his good health.

“Stay active—and exercise,” he said, and then told me about his twice-a-week workout. “For one solid hour I lift weights, exercise my legs, arms, chest, and biceps. I have even seen muscles growing, which is a terrifying thought at 89 years of age.”

He kept to that routine into his 90s.

Friday and his wife, Ida, were also regular walkers. One neighbor said, “The way they care for each other is heartwarming.”

At his office, Friday spent a lot of time on the telephone, Taylor told me when I made the earlier visit.

“He really knows how to work the phones,” she said.

Friday’s calls often went to people who shared his concern for the future of North Carolina and the health of all 17 UNC campuses. He projected optimism even as he said, “There is so much more to do or we will fall behind.”

To the end, Friday continued to enjoy the university community, where he and Ida lived when he entered the UNC School of Law after serving in World War II. They never left.

Until recently, most every Saturday, you could find the Fridays shopping at the local farmers market. I remember that he had told me, “If you’ve gone through the medical routines that I have been, you understand one thing: the fresh food is the best food. That’s why I work so hard to go and get tomatoes and beans and corn and all that.” 

Friday was proud of his three daughters. Fran, a nurse, is the mother of the Fridays’ two grandchildren. Mary, a successful businesswoman, lives in Singapore. Betsy, a talented Broadway performer and producer, died in 2002.

Friday was buried next to Betsy in the family plot in the old Chapel Hill Cemetery, where Friday visited regularly to tend to her gravesite, with its green lawn and growing flowers that make it one of the loveliest places in Chapel Hill.

Close to his desk is a framed quote from 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13.

Love is patient, and kind;
Love is not jealous or boastful;
It is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way;
It is not irritable or resentful; It does not rejoice at wrong,
But rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things, believes all things,
Hopes all things, endures all things.

“It was Betsy’s,” Taylor told me a few years ago. “He reads it every day. It is what he lives by, everyday, too.”

I bet Mr. Friday would recommend that passage for daily reading by each of us.