From the Editor

UNC's Bill Friday led with civility

Executive EditorJuly 17, 2010 

Bill Friday, UNC president from 1956 to 1986, celebrated his 90th birthday this week with several hundred of his closest friends.

He is the kind of person who, even at 90, has several hundred good friends. One of them said that Friday probably is the most respected man in North Carolina.

Charles Kuralt, the late CBS newsman, once said Friday was "the best North Carolinian of his time."

Friday has several legacies. With some farsighted legislators and governors, he helped build one of the great university systems in the world. That speaks to his greatest public achievement and why, 24 years after his retirement, he is still held in high regard in American higher education.

Friday has another legacy - the way he conducted himself during three decades in the public eye. He was in the middle of many fights, some of them deeply passionate - the killing of the Dixie Classic basketball tournament, the integration of the universities, the fight over the ECU med school.

But Friday never let the heated emotions of the moment get the best of him.

He was a good listener and inclusive leader willing to embrace all kinds of people and hear them out. Because he always treated his opponents with respect, he earned theirs.

So in 1994, when some North Carolinians, including the Blumenthal family of Charlotte, were starting a leadership development program, they decided to name the program after Friday.

Every two years, about 20 people from across the state are chosen to be William C. Friday Fellows for Human Relations. During the two years, the fellows spend six long weekends learning about leading with "integrity, intention and inclusion."

In 15 years, the program has graduated 165 Friday Fellows, including me.

Triangle graduates of the program, which is run by the Durham-based Wildacres Leadership Initiative, include state Rep. Deborah Ross; John Hood of the John Locke Foundation; Kel Landis, former CEO of RBC Centura; and Anita Brown-Graham, director of N.C. State's Institute for Emerging Issues.

Clay Thorp, now a venture capitalist, was the program's first executive director and recalls the discussions in 1994 about naming the fellowships.

"We felt like we ought to name it after someone that everybody with lots of points of view could rally around," Thorp said. "Bill Friday was pretty much the only name we agreed on. His was the only name that had unanimity from the founding committee."

Sterling Freeman, the current executive director, is a former college basketball player who believes we should have an "athletic democracy." He believes leaders should make their case with zeal but with respect for the opposition. As Friday did.

"Mr. Friday epitomizes having deep conviction and deep humility and still having respect for the other side," Freeman said.

Freeman calls it "leading with civility." And he says that 15 years after the creation of the Friday Fellowships, Bill Friday remains the model for how to lead with civility.

john.drescher@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4515

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