Life Stories

Love, adventure mark Raleigh woman's life

Nell Finch was devoted to family, community, travel

February 13, 2012 

  • Nell Adkins Finch

    Born: March 29, 1929

    1951: Graduates from UNC-Greensboro

    1952: Marries Mel Finch

    2009: Widowed after 57 years of marriage

    Dies: Jan. 14, 2012

When her 11-year-old son's basketball team found itself without a coach, Nell Finch did not hesitate to volunteer her services, much to her son's horror.

Lewis Finch, the eldest of her three children, laughs about it now.

"Looking back on it, it was just her being her," he said.

Finch's family says she was the first woman to coach a Raleigh City Basketball League team. Finch played basketball in high school in Franklinton, where she was also class valedictorian.

She would go on to lead her family, her church and her community through her tenacious and determined spirit, always ready for the next adventure - on any continent.

Finch died last month at the age of 82. It was a surprise to her friends and family - just the week after Christmas she had gone on one of her annual beach trips with her gaggle of girlfriends. Upon her return she fell ill, had a heart attack in her home and was unable to recover.

"The way that she went was pretty profound for us," said David Finch, the youngest of her three children. She also has a daughter, Merriweather Finch Young. During her final moments in the hospital, "she was so at peace and she was so ready to go."

Nell Finch was born Nell Adkins, the daughter of a mill worker and one of four children. Her father's education ended in the third grade, her mother's before high school, David Finch said.

She was the only one of her siblings to go to college.

"She was smart in school and very competitive," David Finch said. "She always wanted more."

She helped fund her studies by driving a school bus, having to work her class schedule around her routes. She still managed to graduate from UNC-Greensboro, then a women's teaching school, with a degree in chemistry. She would teach the sciences for five years until her first child was born.

She met her husband, Melvin Lewis Finch Jr., the love of her life, while in college and they married a year after she graduated. Mel Finch later became the chief financial officer of The News & Observer.

Nell Finch's writings show that as a young woman she wanted to be a doctor, David Finch said. At the time she felt she had to choose, and she chose love and a family.

'Fiercely proud' parent

Finch was about as involved as a parent could be, her children say.

"She did everything that you could volunteer for, for the kids," David Finch said. "She went with us everywhere and signed us up for everything." They had to try things out, even if they didn't want to, as was the case with many a musical instrument.

"She was fiercely protective and fiercely proud of all of us," he said.

When her youngest child showed interest in magic, she fostered that passion. By age 13, David Finch said he had gigs all over the area. But, of course, was too young to drive himself.

"She would drive me all over until I was 16," he said. "She loved it as much as I did."

She brought the same energy and enthusiasm to her volunteer work.

She never went back to teaching, instead spending her "free" time on the PTA, working for the Wake County Women's Center, Red Cross and area museums, among other places.

"She was an instigator and an organizer," David Finch said, and it was always fueled by her desire to improve the lives of those around her.

"She was her own person," Lewis Finch said. "She knew who she was and she liked being who she was."

Fundraising 'legend'

Finch was raised Methodist, but converted to the Episcopal Church upon her marriage and threw herself into the workings at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Raleigh.

She was a force to be reckoned with when it came to the church's annual follies, as well as the annual fund - a legend in her efficacy when it came to closing the deal on donations, even in her 80s.

She formed a close bond with Holly Gloff, associate rector at St. Michael's.

Gloff's husband died a few months after she arrived at the church in 2006, and it did not take Finch long to reach out.

She and a friend "arrived on my doorstep the morning after Rob died and said, 'Hi, we've adopted you as our daughter,' " Gloff recalled. After that, she was known as "OD" - Other Daughter.

When Gloff organized a trip to Scotland to study Celtic spirituality, an 80-year-old Finch was literally the first to sign up.

"She did the hiking the same as everybody else," Gloff said.

Travel was a passion of hers, and before she was widowed in 2009, she and her husband, Mel, took regular trips.

"She did drag my father all over Europe," Lewis Finch chuckled.

One of her favorite trips took place each year when she rented condos for her three children and their families on the water at Emerald Isle. It was her time to regroup, enjoy her grandchildren and settle in for a nice long visit.

She didn't sit still all that often.

"She fought all the battles, she didn't just pick one or two," David Finch said.

"She left nothing on the field."

Shestak: 919-826-4520

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service