Ida Friday, UNC’s first lady, dies at 97

February 9, 2017

Theirs was a rare partnership between two good and genteel people who worked tirelessly for the state they loved and for the noble causes they championed.

Ida Friday (right) and UNC President Bill Friday (center) greet Leila Morgan, a relative of Dr. Lucy Morgan's, at the dedication of Rosenau Hall in 1963.

Ida Friday (right) and her husband, UNC President Bill Friday (center), greet a guest at the dedication of Rosenau Hall in 1963.

Ida Howell Friday, MPH, artist, activist and epitome of grace, married for 70 years to the late William Clyde Friday, former president of The University of North Carolina system,  died Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, at the age of 97. Those who loved them individually and together can find only joy in the potential reunion of Bill and Miss Ida.

Born in Sumter, S.C., Ida Willa Howell grew up in Lumberton, N.C., the daughter of a farmer and an English teacher. She graduated from high school as her class’s valedictorian and pursued her education at Meredith College, where she earned a degree in home economics in 1941.

While at Meredith, she met the president of student government at N.C. State University on a blind date and liked him well enough to marry him in 1942.

In 1948, she earned a master’s degree in health education from UNC’s public health school, now the Gillings School of Global Public Health, and taught health education there for several years. Her husband became assistant dean of students in 1948, and by 1956, had become the UNC system president, at the age of 36.

While serving as “first lady” to Bill Friday’s 30-year presidency at UNC and rearing their three daughters, she also remained committed to a number of local and national causes, including historic preservation, civil rights and women’s rights. She supported the arts in North Carolina and was herself an active painter and sculptor.

Bill and Ida Friday attend a UNC event in 2008.

Bill and Ida Friday attend a UNC event in 2008. Photo by Tom Fuldner.

Jo Anne Earp, ScD, professor and former chair of the Gillings School’s health behavior department, met the Fridays when she became chair in 1996. A generous department scholarship, the Lucy Morgan Award, was funded anonymously. However, Earp learned that the Fridays were the donors of the scholarship, the department’s largest and one that honored their friend and the department’s founding chair, Dr. Lucy Morgan.

“The Fridays invited the three awardees and me, as chair, to their home for lunch, each year for a number of years,” Earp said. “Ida was extremely generous to all of us visitors, sharing not only her hospitality, but also many memories of life in the department ‘back in the day.’ She and Mr. Friday were very proud of their connections to Dr. Morgan and the department. In turn, I was proud to continue the department’s traditions, such as field work for students and community advocacy by professors, all of which Ida remembered so fondly.”

“Living with Ida is an adventure,” Bill Friday had 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.”

The value of the partnership was clear in 2006, at a Gillings School event that celebrated the history of the Department of Health Behavior. Despite her openhearted smile, it was obvious Miss Ida no longer recognized all the people who waited patiently to hug her. With one arm encircling her shoulders, Bill stepped in protectively. “She’s just so happy to see all of you,” he said.

Friday was predeceased by her husband and their daughter Betsy. She is survived by 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.

The William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education was opened in 1991 with the mission to realize the Fridays’ vision for a “citizen’s classroom,” where people from all walks of life could stay curious and educate themselves throughout their lives. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may 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, N.C. 27599-1020 or online at


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or