William Friday: Timeline

1920 - 1930 - 1940 - 1950 - 1960 - 1970 - 1980 - 1990 - 2000


  • July 13, 1920: William Clyde Friday is born to Mary Elizabeth 'Beth' Rowan and David Lathan 'Lath' Friday in Raphine, VA, home of the Rowan family. Shortly thereafter the first born for Beth and Lath is relocated back to his parent's home in rural Dallas, NC in Gaston County.
  • 1929: During Gastonia's Loray strike, Communist-led National Textile Workers' Union unsuccessfully attempted to unionize Gastonia's largest mill. Both William and his father see the strike as a "pivotal event," hardening lines against unions, but the younger Friday would later take his impressions of this experience with him into University administration, publicly defending the striking workers.


  • 1930: Bill Friday spends his first summer with his grandparents in Raphine, VA, having an indelible impact on his life. While the summers provided the 10-year old boy with the values of hard work and sacrifice from his disciplinarian grandfather, Friday would later call the period, "the time of his life."
  • 1935: The rampant poverty that follows the Great Depression across the country affects the textile machine industry that had long supported the Friday family in North Carolina. As a result, the Friday's lose the land between Dallas and Gastonia where they had planned on one day constructing a larger home.
  • 1933-1936: Despite the fallout of the Great Depression, Friday begins to learn leadership skills through his participation in organized sports. Through his play as a standout catcher for the American Legion baseball team, Friday would find himself proficient enough to have pursued a professional career playing baseball.
  • 1937: Despite eventually becoming president of North Carolina's public university system, William Friday begins his college career at Wake Forest, a private university in Winston-Salem. Of the 13 members of his Depression-era high school graduating class, William Friday was the only one who was able to attend college when his minister helped to a $50 tuition scholarship.
  • 1937: Lath and Beth Friday separate from their marriage while William is away at college. As a result of this painful time, Friday would later say, "[their separation] led to all kinds of stress and tension, it made it very difficult. But, this is a lesson that in some ways prepared you to deal with other things."
  • 1938: With only one year at Wake Forest University behind William, Lath Friday encourages his son to transfer to North Carolina State University, then known as North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering, to study a curriculum in textiles.


  • 1940: William Friday meets future wife, Ida Howell, on a blind date arranged by William's friend Paul Lehman.
  • 1941: Already senior class president, Friday becomes the first student to be asked to speak at a State College commencement on June 9 before an audience that included Governor J. Melville Broughton, Frank Porter Graham, and both of his parents.
  • 1942: Despite lacking ROTC experience, Bill Friday, like many of his peers motivated by the Pearl Harbor attacks to serve their country, applies for and receives a commission for the navy in the spring. Later this year, Friday begins work at the Naval Ammunitions Depot at St. Julien's Creek in Norfolk, VA. Because of his engineering degree, he was promoted to plant operations manager, forcing him into the tense role of constantly supervising a dangerous environment for both himself and his men.
  • May 13, 1942: Ida Howell and William Friday marry in the Haynesville Methodist Church in Raleigh.
  • 1946: A mere 7 days after being discharged from the Navy after WWII, William Friday moves to Chapel Hill with wife Ida to attend Law School at the University of North Carolina.
  • 1948: After graduating from law school in June, Friday begins to work for the dean of students at Carolina, Fred H. Weaver, thereby beginning what would become a lifelong career with the university. Friday later said that entering University administration during this period was the "last thought" in his mind.


  • 1950: The bitter and controversial 1950 Senate race between Frank Porter Graham and Willis Smith, ends both Graham's senatorial career and indelibly impacts the way William Friday views political life. As a result, Friday would never run for political office.
  • 1950-55: Gordon Gray assumed the presidency after Graham left for Washington. Gray created a position of secretary to the president and appointed Friday to it, so his position became official and he would be named the acting president when Gray left.
  • 1954: William Friday, alongside Gordon Gray, is instrumental in the formation of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), "representing an effort to establish an exclusive conference of schools of similar size that could enforce stricter controls over athletics."
  • 1954: Alongside Billy Carmichael and UNC President Gordon Gray, William Friday works diligently to make North Carolina public television a success. WUNC-TV began operations this year the initial broadcast of a UNC and Wake Forest basketball game, kicking off what is now the University of North Carolina's statewide public television network, UNC-TV.
  • May 8, 1957: William C. Friday is officially inaugurated as UNC president in May at 36 years of age - a position he would hold for 30 years - facing the challenges of faculty morale, athletics issues, segregation and anticommunism.
  • 1958: Alongside other members of the Research Triangle Park Committee, William Friday is instrumental in establishing this "industrial complex that drew on the research of Duke, Carolina and NC State Universities. Today, RTP employs over 30,000 North Carolinians in scientific research, technology and a variety of other fields.


  • 1960: After a point-shaving incident leads to threats against basketball players in the Dixie Classic basketball tournament, Friday and other members of UNC Administration vote to abolish this sporting event, thereby canceling the "most successful holiday basketball tournament in the country. Considered one of William Friday's earliest challenges as University president, (and also known as one of his most unpopular decisions while at the helm), Friday would later say of this incident, "when human life is threatened, when something is out of control the way this was, there was no alternative, and we did what we were morally bound to do." Nonetheless, the incident was said to have, "widened the gulf between the world of the university and that of the average North Carolinian."
  • 1963: The Speaker Ban Law, enacted by legislature as the first measure of its kind in North Carolina to prohibit communists to speak on campus, becomes a major challenge during Friday's presidency. Throughout his tenure, Friday battles diligently to get the Speaker Ban Law stricken from the University books. "I always felt that freedom is the basic lesson you have to teach every student," says Friday. Friday campaigned against the Speaker Ban Law and finally had to initiate a lawsuit to get the ban repealed in 1968.
  • 1964: Under the guise of President Lyndon Johnson, John Gardner and William Friday in establishing the White House Fellows program, a program that allowed college students to work in assistantship positions with the President of the United States. Soon after, Gardner offered Friday a position as assistant secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare that Friday refused, a decision he later regretted.
  • 1968: In December, the newly formed Black Student Movement presents a list of demands to the UNC administration. Ultimately the students staged a sit-in at Lenoir Hall, and Governor Bob Scott offered to intervene, a proposal, which Friday rejects. However, the next day, Friday came to campus to find state troopers on campus. Friday describes his reaction to their presence and the ultimate resolution of the protest. Of this decision, Friday described this issue with the Governor as "the only time that he and I ever really had a confrontation."
  • 1969-1981: Friday works with university affairs to desegregate the universities but to maintain the traditionally black colleges. While Friday's opinions are not popular and also spark much criticism, he maintains that the balance in education helped both to improve the educational environment in all schools, while helping historically-black colleges to keep their sense of culture. Of this time Friday says, "that was eleven years of a controversy that should have never have taken place in the first place."


  • 1971: William Friday's television interview show, NC People premieres on UNC-TV. In his three decades with NC People, William Friday interviews over 1500 North Carolinians.
  • 1972: The new consolidated sixteen-campus system of the University of North Carolina is inaugurated in July, becoming the capstone of Friday's presidency.    
  • 1975: After years of political battles between William Friday and the state's political leadership, East Carolina University receives appropriated moneys for the construction of a new medical school, becoming another example of the challenges Friday faced with restructuring the sixteen campuses he oversees. "The melding of these sixteen diverse campuses into a new university sytem became one of [Friday's] most important legacies." -William Link.     


  • 1986: William Friday retires from university leadership after more than 30 years as president of the UNC system. Friday says of his retirement, "I thought I would have been moved on to something else long before then, but the years went by and the issues came in bunches and there was never a convenient time. I had several opportunities to do other things, but I felt my first duty was here and I stayed with it. When 65 came to me it was time to move, and I moved on."      

  • 1988: In retirement, Bill Friday turns his attention to problems of poverty. His speech at this year's meeting of the North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry (NCCBI), identifying the widespread issues facing North Carolinians today, raised awareness and made a strong impact on the state's business leaders - changing priorities for future growth and expenditures.     


  • 1997: President Bill Clinton presents William Friday the National Humanities Medal for his commitment to the humanities throughout his long career in academia and public service.   


  • 2001: As the affable host of UNC-TV's longest-running program, North Carolina People, Friday celebrates his 30th anniversary.
  • 2012: He continues to welcome a range of interesting North Carolinians, engaging the Tar Heel State's best thinkers, writers, politicians, educators, athletes, entertainers and other newsmakers in one-on-one interviews.