Bill Friday at 90: life of his party

He's called state's 'most respected man,' and no one argues

Staff WriterJuly 14, 2010 

— The cake was plentiful and so were the people Tuesday as hundreds waited in line to wish the state's "most respected man" a happy 90th birthday.

UNC System President Emeritus William Friday personally greeted guests and enjoyed his favorite Maple View ice cream and chocolate cake. Guests got vanilla.

Friday became president of the university system in 1956 and served until 1986, the longest tenure in the 20th century.

Party-goers included colleagues from the highest levels of education and government and those like Ann and Eugen Merzbacher, whose children overlapped with the Fridays' in school.

"Bill and Ida never missed a PTA meeting," Ann Merzbacher said.

Scott Ralls, president of the North Carolina Community College system, called Friday his personal hero.

"I don't know if the community colleges in the state would be what it was [without him]," Ralls said. "We are often times the way students access the UNC system. He understood that years ago and understands it today when the state needs it more than ever."

Billy Ray Hall worked with Friday to establish the North Carolina Rural Center, an economic development organization.

"He's the guy that makes it all right for North Carolinians to be do-gooders, especially for people who are hurting," he said.

Hall has worked for four governors. Every one sought Friday's advice on higher education, he said.

Raymond Jefferies worked with Friday in the dean's office at UNC-Chapel Hill from 1949 to 1953. As co-workers he and Friday were "always together," Jefferies said.

"He is probably the most respected man in North Carolina," he said.

katelyn.ferral@newsobserver.com or 919-932-8746

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