Bill Friday personified philanthropy

By Todd Cohen

Anyone who wants to understand philanthropy, and how to be great at doing good, can learn a lot from the life of William Friday.

Friday, who died today at age 92, personified public service for the common good.

A leader without peer in North Carolina, Bill Friday served for three decades as president of the University of North Carolina system, and then another decade as head of the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust.

In those roles, he did more than anyone else in the second half of the 20th century to help our state move from its agricultural and manufacturing roots to become a global pioneer and leader in higher education, digital technology, biosciences and social enterprise.

At the same time, he never ceased championing the need to address the most urgent needs of the most vulnerable among us, working to ensuring their access to food, shelter, health care, schooling and jobs.

Most important, Friday’s leadership was rooted in common decency, civility, compassion, humility and respect for individuals.

North Carolina, America and the world today face unprecedented, seemingly overwhelming social and global problems.

Our politics are toxic, our government moves at glacial speed, and many of our leading institutions are infected with terminal greed and self-dealing.

The social sector — nonprofits, philanthropies and the emerging breed of social businesses — represent our best hope for social progress.

With the economy in turmoil, social investors are looking for social enterprises that can show they truly can make a difference.

To do that, organizations must excel at the basics of running their shops, serving their constituents and engaging their supporters, while also adopting innovative strategies and digital tools to do their work.

Bill Friday helped transform North Carolina from a land of farms and factories to an incubator for jobs, leadership, research and public service.

Yet much of North Carolina still struggles with crushing poverty and deprivation.

Anyone who wants to make even a dent in addressing those problems and improving our state and our democracy, should study the life and work of Bill Friday.

He understood we all can be better if we work together, with respect and commitment, to make our communities better places to live and work.

Bill Friday embodied the best of philanthropy: He led by serving, and he served by leading.

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2 responses

  1. Amen, and again, Amen, Todd. No one in this state’s leadership over the past century has been as humble, open, intelligent, compassionate and dedicated to their fellow humans as Bill Friday. Rest his soul.

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