Former UNC-system President Bill Friday was prepared to take a bullet for the 1961 University Day speaker — President John F. Kennedy.
A Secret Service agent showed Friday a security plan before the Oct. 12 speech, highlighting the armed security guards that would patrol every section of Kenan Stadium.
“And he said, ‘I just wanted to show you this, because you’ll be up there standing by President Kennedy, and they might miss,’” Friday said in a 1990 interview with UNC’s Oral Histories of the American South.
He said he invited everyone in the Chapel Hill area to hear the president’s speech, including local elementary and high schools students.
“We invited all the faculty here and everybody in town,” he said.
“They filled the place up.”
William Aycock, chancellor at the time of the visit, said Kennedy’s appearance was a momentous occasion for UNC.
“This was the first speech he made after he was elected president outside of Washington, D.C.,” Aycock said.
Friday said many people asked him what he talked about when he and Aycock greeted the president before the speech.
“Well, his first question was, ‘Who won the game last Saturday?’” Friday said.
Friday said about 30,000 people filled the stadium that sunny afternoon as President Kennedy delivered a speech about education.
Aycock said Governor Terry Sanford played a major role in bringing the president to campus, since the governor had ties to the Kennedy family.
The University has since brought only one other president for University Day — Bill Clinton in 1993. The chancellor chooses the speaker each year, said University spokesman Mike McFarland in an email.
Friday said Kennedy accidentally walked away with his fountain pen after signing an autograph for a girl in the audience.
But he received a note and a pen in the mail apologizing for the incident.
“I got the cutest letter from President Kennedy, in which he said he apologized for absconding with this weapon of intellectual freedom,” Friday said.
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