Monday, June 12, 2006

Bill Friday: A hard act to follow

Bill Friday: Still a hard act to follow
Here’s a good piece of advice: If anyone asks you to give a talk right after Bill Friday, politely, but firmly, decline. He’s a hard act to follow – maybe the hardest in North Carolina public affairs.
The thought came to me as I sat listening to him in Greensboro’s First Presbyterian Church at a memorial service for the incomparable Hugh Morton. Hugh’s contributions to North Carolina in the second half of the 20th century are just spell-binding when you add them up – from the coast to the mountains.
Among the things Hugh worked on during his richly productive life were the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Battleship North Carolina, the Azalea Festival in Wilmington and Grandfather Mountain. His superb photographs have enriched our lives and our understanding of North Carolina people and the environment.
The list of attendees was impressive – three governors (Jim Holshouser, Jim Martin and Mike Easley, four UNC system presidents (Friday, C.D. Spangler, Molly Broad and Erskine Bowles), at least two Tar Heel coaches (Dean Smith and John Bunting), ACC players (N.C. State’s Tommy Burleson and UNC’s Phil Ford), Panther owner (Jerry Richardson) and a long list of other dignitaries including chancellors, former legislators, cabinet officials and mayors, not to mention hundreds of friends and admirers.
Bill Friday’s remarks about Hugh Morton were delivered in the same way Friday does everything: warm, measured, reflective, hitting the right notes at just the right length, with a touch of poetry about Hugh slipping away on a lovely afternoon as the sun faded down the western slopes. “We shall remember, Old Friend, we shall always remember,” Friday said.
I felt for my friend Mack Pearsall, who had to follow Friday’s just-right tribute. Pearsall had a good line about the devil needing to triple his marketing budget because of Morton’s extraordinary promotional skills. But once Bill Friday has spoken in your memory, there’s really not much left to be said, and no way to improve on it.
Of course, memorial services are for the living, not for the departed. Hugh Morton’s lovely service was a reminder of the importance of telling folks what they have meant to you, while they are still on this earth. That’s hard to do, whether you’re Bill Friday or someone else.

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