Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bill Friday, nearly 90, still teaching

What would we do without Bill Friday?

At a ceremony in Raleigh the other day to celebrate the dedication of the Kerr Scott and Robert W. Scott Courtyard at N.C. State University, I was struck by the fact that just about all my life I have been listening to the thoughts of William Clyde "Bill" Friday reminding us of the things we ought to be thinking about.

He was president of the Consolidated University of North Carolina when I went down to Chapel Hill in 1962 for Boys State, he was the leader of the university when I attended from 1964-68 and he was president of the new 16 campus University of North Carolina system when I first became a reporter and later Washington and Raleigh correspondent for the Greensboro Daily News.

He often seemed to be everywhere, but he was always no further away than a telephone, willing to talk about state history, fully cognizant of the state's many needs and always enthusiastic about the progress the state could make through its various educational enterprises, especially the university. He was a university president, but at heart he has always been a teacher.

Sometime in the 1980s I was sitting by Thomas W. Lambeth at a presentation in Chapel Hill that was a mix of an awards ceremony, an exhortation to go out and do good and a lesson on all the things that ought to be done to make this state the best -- not just pretty good, but the things that would make it a national leader in important endeavors. Tom leaned over and whispered, "You know, nobody in the world can do this like Bill Friday can."

So it was Tuesday when he covered the broad sweep of history during the time of Govs. Kerr Scott and Bob Scott. My colleague Rob Christensen wrote about it here. Friday told a funny story about meetings in Kerr Scott's office, and the wagering whether the meeting would last one cigar or two. He also talked about the monumental decision Bob Scott made in pressing the legislation that created the 16-campus university system of which he became president, and how important that was to the state.

Now, here's the thing: Bill Friday, the president of the consolidated university at the time Bob Scott proposed the much larger merger of the public colleges and universities, didn't exactly want what Scott was proposing, at least not in the way Scott was proposing it. And it was not clear how the legislation would go, or how the system would look, or whether it would even work. The genius of Bill Friday, as biographer William Link noted, was that he took what the legislature approved and made it work -- made it into one of the best systems in the country, in fact.

Friday is nearly 90 now, and doesn't make evening appearances anymore. But he still has clear thoughts about what the state needs to do, and not just on education issues, either. Last week Friday spoke to a gathering of scientists, policymakers, government regulators, business officials and environmental advocates about global warming. Here are a few excerpts that are worth reading when you've got time. They are quintessential Bill Friday:

"….The environment, among other critical matters, has now for more than two decades been disturbing the minds of quite a few North Carolinians, but no concrete, organized action has followed…..
I regret our inability to move forward. Issues often cannot any longer be put aside. So, today and at this hour you and I have a responsibility to be specific as to actions necessary and to report to the citizens on what is being achieved.
Let me illustrate: North Carolina has no more critical issue than that of the availability of water. Twenty years ago, the great river basins of North Carolina supplied adequate water for a population substantially smaller than that of today. This morning, these same river basins are endeavoring to supply a vastly increased population with greater demands and environmental stresses, and already North Carolina and South Carolina are involved in litigation over the control of the river flow. How long will it take us to arrive and serious and rational decisions and adaptations to husband so fundamental a resource to our well being?
Like you, I am here today to hear what concerned and qualified leaders have to say about our ability to adapt what we already know about the dramatic climate-change taking place. It is the quality of life that is really at issue. This meeting is imperative, if for no other reason because the second largest industry we have, tourism--$16 billion annually—is fundamentally based on the natural endowment of our mountains, our sea coast, our parks, our streams—all of which are impacted by climate conditions.
I try to spend as much time as I can at a place in Kill Devil Hills. Recently, the Associated Press carried an account of a report by competent personnel that the sea level on our coast could rise from one to as much as four feet in this century. As you can see, I am not one to be worrying about eighty years down the road, but I am concerned for my grandson and my granddaughter. Yes, the debate rages; but when competent engineering and scientific intelligence documents the evidence it is time for you and met to think seriously about adaptations we can make to prepare consequences which can only be avoided by major changes in our industrial, agricultural and personal practices—changes that must occur now.
So, we gather to reach fundamental and basic decisions that we as North Carolinians must now make in adapting ourselves to the inevitability of climate change already in progress. The question you and I must face is the clear acceptance of our role as trustees of the environment we enjoy looking to the future for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The issues are clear, the time is now and the work is ours to do. Let us earnestly hope that once again North Carolinians will do as they’ve always done in time of great crisis, we rise to the challenge and fulfill the trusteeship our generation holds. Esse quam videri."

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bill Friday is a priceless legend in Our State.

God bless Bill Friday for all he has done for North Carolina and UNC.

Anonymous said...

I remember singing Christmas carols on the lawn of Bill Friday's home on Franklin St. with a group of friends from Cobb Dorm in 1971. Dr. Friday came out on the porch and listened, and thanked us. He is the quintessential Southern gentleman and scholar, and a North Carolina treasure.

Anonymous said...

There is no one--NO ONE--like Bill Friday in our state these days. While he doesn't go out much in the evenings, as Jack notes, he is making an exception for An Evening With William Friday later this month for the folks at N. C. Spin. As he approaches his 90th birthday in July, his step is a little slower and his back a little more stooped, but his mind is as sharp as ever and his advice still sought by countless people every day. I refuse to imagine what life will be like without Bill Friday in North Carolina.

David P. McKnight said...

Pulitzer-Worthy TV Interviews

I've been after my UNC journalism pals for years to put Bill Friday's "North Carolina People" programs up for yet another round of professional and educational recognition--a Pulitzer Prize for "one-on-one" broadcast journalism.

Yes, Dr. Friday is known statewide and across the country for his pioneering, forward-looking leadership in the field of higher education as was evident nearly half a century ago when President John F. Kennedy made a stirring Founders Day address on the University's Chapel Hill campus in October 1961.

But since his "retirement" from educational stewardship, and you certainly have to put that in quotes because he has stayed "in the thick of it" as far as evaluating and defining educational priorities is concerned, Bill Friday has given us, over a period of many years, a first-rate series of television broadcast interviews with influential individuals in the Old North State in the form of his popular and critically acclaimed "North Carolina People" programs on the UNC statewide television network.

So since some of us who did not attend UNC-Chapel Hill don't enjoy much influence on the state and national journalism scenes, we are counting on our friends in the UNC journalism community to make sure the good folks on the Pulitzer Prize editorial board are aware of what an outstanding and illuminating series of broadcast interview programs has been hosted on "North Carolina People" through the years by Dr. William Friday.

You don't have to be a David Brinkley, Tom Wicker or Charlie Kuralt to recognize that in addition to his enduring legacy in higher education leadership, Bill Friday deserves honors on the journalism front for showing how a one-on-one television interview, in the Edward R. Murrow tradition, can help people across a richly diverse state find their bearings for building upon a proud past and forging a more promising future for North Carolina and the Nation.

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eiswein said...

I have seen and heard this wonderful man for so much of my life that,despite having never met him in person,I would feel right at home sitting in a rowboat fishing with him.

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Afiz said...

Thanks for the great post
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