Ida Howell Friday, well known Chapel Hill resident and widow of former UNC President William Friday, died Monday at the age of 97.
Friday, who was by her husband’s side during his 30-year presidency, also was a determined community leader, a social activist and a graceful presence in Chapel Hill. A continuing education center off N.C. 54 is named for the couple, who were married for 70 years and raised three daughters — Fran, Mary and Betsy.
Committed to women’s issues, social justice, historic preservation and public health, Friday didn’t hesitate to take a stand on difficult issues of the day. She was a founding member of the Community Church in 1953, a place that welcomed people of all backgrounds, races and creeds.
Born in Sumter, S.C., Ida Willa Howell grew up in Lumberton, the daughter of a farmer and an English teacher. She was the valedictorian of Lumberton High School in 1937 and graduated from Meredith College in 1941 with a bachelor’s degree in home economics. A year later, she married William Clyde Friday. The two had met on a blind date; at the time, Bill Friday was president of student government at N.C. State University.
The couple moved to Chapel Hill, where she earned a master’s degree at UNC’s School of Public Health in 1948. He became acting president of the university at a young age, in 1956, and was chosen for the permanent position a year later.
In Chapel Hill, Ida Friday was involved in many organizations, including the Women’s Center, now known as the Compass Center for Women and Families, and the Chapel Hill Preservation Society. She served on the national board of the American Dance Festival.
She and her good friend, Georgia Kyser, wife of big band leader and Chapel Hill resident Kay Kyser, often set off on travels when their husbands were busy. Their first trek was a car trip to Mexico, but they would also venture to Alaska, Europe and Asia.
Friday was the subject of The News & Observer’s Tar Heel of the Week in 1979, where she was described as a renaissance woman with Southern style. “A world traveler, patron of the arts, citizen activist, observer of politics, she is a spirited doer,” the story said.
Bill Friday said in an interview then that his wife worked as hard for the university as he did. She was known to sit in the back row at UNC Board of Governors meetings, where she was intent on listening to the debates of the day.
“Living with Ida is an adventure,” he said in 1979. “It’s something different all the time. She’s a source of constant strength and encouragement. We really work as a partnership.”
When asked how she wanted to be known in her community, she said, simply, “I would like for them to look at my children and say, ‘I think she’s done a good job.’”
Ida Friday was predeceased by her husband, Bill, and her daughter Betsy. She is survived by her daughters Fran Friday (Jack Mullen) and Mary Leadbetter (Jon), her grandchildren Miranda Shook (Tristan) and Walker Mullen (Viviana) and her great-grandchildren Wiley, Margot and Emma.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts should be directed to the William and Ida Friday Fund for Lifelong Learning at the Friday Center, 100 Friday Center Drive, Campus Box 1020, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-1020 or online at www.fridaycenter.unc.edu/gift/