RALEIGH — Melvin Lewis Finch Jr. was an accountant, a numbers guy. Here are some of the numbers that shaped his life: 37 years working for the same employer; 57 years of marriage to the former Nell Adkins; three children; six grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; two trips a year for 13 years to the beach with three friends.
Finch, retired chief financial officer for The News & Observer Publishing Co., also helped make one school system out of two in the 1970s, when he served first on the Raleigh Board of Education and then on the newly merged Wake County board. It was a tumultuous time, when many whites felt their schools were under siege and many blacks felt their children were being treated like pariahs.
Finch, whose quiet demeanor put company shareholders at ease, was a calm voice on the other end of the line when parents would call the house, angry over the planned schools merger.
"He would listen," Nell Finch said. "And then he would tell them, 'We really don't have any choice.' "
Finch was 81 when he died Sunday after a long battle with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
Born and raised in Henderson, Finch served aboard Navy aircraft carriers in the Pacific during World War II. After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1949, he went to work for a newspaper in Wilson, then was hired as an advertising sales rep for The N&O in 1952.
Retired publisher Frank Daniels Jr. said he pulled Finch out of advertising and put him in accounting. "He had the ability and the instincts," Daniels said.
In his lifetime, Finch may have owned one new car. The rest he bought used and drove hard, recalled Fred Crisp, who served as publisher after The McClatchy Co. bought the paper in 1995 and is now retired.
Nell Finch recalls that her husband kept one Plymouth until a floorboard rusted out. When one son insisted that Finch drop him off a block from school each morning, Finch obliged, but told him, "It's paid for. I'm not ashamed of it, and you shouldn't be, either."
Finch kept the same tight grip on The News & Observer's money.
"People would come to get pencils, and he would say, 'You just got some,'" his widow said.
A.C. Snow, a columnist for the paper and a close friend, said he and Finch and two others from the paper went to the beach twice a year for at least 13 years, a bachelors' weekend that involved eating a lot of seafood and walking the beach.
Except for those trips, and the ones he had taken with the UNC marching band, Finch didn't travel much until later in his life, saying it cost too much. But he loosened up eventually, and he and his wife went all over Europe, to China and Japan, and repeatedly to London.
On a trip to Hong Kong, they found and stayed at a hotel where Finch had bought a drink during the war.
He still had the receipt.
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