Chapel Hill, N.C. — An event planned to honor the generosity of former University of North Carolina President William C. "Bill" Friday and his wife, Ida, went on as planned Saturday night, just a day after the 92-year-old died.
Friday's contributions, to the university, the state and beyond, were beyond measure, those who knew him said upon learning of his passing. Saturday's event was the first in what is sure to be a series of opportunities to celebrate his life.
A public memorial service is scheduled Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Memorial Hall on UNC's Chapel Hill campus.
"We've lost a person in the community that can never be replaced," said Betsy Conger James, chairwoman of the board of directors for The ArtsCenter in Carrboro.
Organizers said the Fridays were big into the arts and were instrumental in securing the ArtsCenter's home.
Those who gathered Saturday night for a fundraiser planned long before his death noted the body of work that Friday left.
He headed UNC from 1956 to 1986, leading it through the civil rights era, the creation of the 17-campus university system and an era of unprecedented growth.
"Bill Friday was the essence of excellence and integrity in the state of North Carolina," said state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Orange).
They remembered his pursuit to make a quality education available to all. Friday believed passionately in the accessibility of education. He advocated high-quality schools with affordable tuition.
"He was a relentless fighter for trying to help those less fortunate," said Moses Carey, who counted himself among Friday's friends.
"Those are all things that Bill Friday championed, and those are all the things that Carolina holds most dear – to be the university that is accessible to everybody," UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp said. "All of us who have carried those torches since then did it because of him."
"He was a gentle man, a soft-spoken man, but he worked well with people," James said.
"That's the real message of Bill Friday," said ArtsCenter Director Art Menius.