Former Southwestern President William Carrington Finch Passes On

William Carrington Finch, who served as the 11th president of Southwestern University, died June 13 in Nashville, Tenn. He was 97.

Finch served as president of Southwestern from 1949 to 1961, guiding the University through a difficult period of declining enrollment and revenue that followed the immediate post-war boom.

“When the Finch administration began, only two new buildings had been built in over 20 years...,” Ralph Wood Jones wrote in his 1973 book on the history of Southwestern. “The campus was dotted with one- and two-story buildings brought in by the previous administration to accommodate the expanded post-World War II enrollment. Most of the campus roads were unpaved, the older buildings were badly in need of repair, and a protracted drought of the late forties and early fifties added dead and dying vegetation to the ramshackle scene.”

During his tenure as president, Finch gave Southwestern a consistent sense of direction, focusing attention on the need for a strong and well-paid faculty, a selective student body and improved facilities. Buildings added to campus during the Finch administration include the Lois Perkins Chapel (Finch conceived the ideas for the stained glass windows on the sides of the chapel), the Fondren Science Building, Ruter Hall, the Alma Thomas Theater and Fine Arts Center, the Kurth-Landrum Golf Course, and the four fraternities on Fraternity Row. In the 1952-53 academic year, Finch made the decision to end football at Southwestern due to rising deficits in the athletics budget. He later recommended that Southwestern eliminate its graduate program and its summer school program. He also created Southwestern’s first significant working endowment.

During the Finch administration, Southwestern also took its first steps toward racial integration by scheduling regular athletic, cultural and religious events that included students of color.

Finch also took the first steps to prepare Southwestern for integration that would come in the 1960s.

“Bill Finch’s administration at Southwestern still has profound impact more than 50 years later, and for the faculty, staff and students who had the great honor of knowing him personally, his positive influence will endure,” says current President Jake B. Schrum ’68. “We owe him our deepest gratitude for setting Southwestern on a path that led first to stability, then to a period of refocusing, and finally to a realization of the core principles of being a church-related liberal arts college.”

A native of Chase City, Va., Finch received his undergraduate degree from Hampden-Sydney College in 1929, a master’s degree from Union Theological Seminary in 1936 and a Ph.D. from Drew University in 1940. His life was spent in education, teaching first at Oklahoma City University and moving to Southwestern University in 1941 as an associate professor and head of the Department of Religion and Philosophy.

In 1944, he joined the U.S. Navy as chaplain, and served in the Pacific theater on the U.S.S. Bingham until his discharge. After the war, former Southwestern President John Score appointed Finch to serve as his administrative assistant — a position that helped prepare him to assume the presidency three years later when Score died of a heart attack.

Finch left Southwestern in 1961 to become Dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, where he served for four years before going to Emory and Henry College in Emory, Va., as president. He retired in 1971 and returned to Nashville, where he spent a good many years in volunteer work with the Store Front Ministry and other services.

Finch is survived by his wife of nearly 70 years, Lucy Bedinger Finch, and two sons, Dr. William Tyree Finch of Nashville, and Dr. Richard Carrington Finch ’65 of Cookeville. He also is survived by four grandchildren, two nieces, two nephews, and seven great nieces and nephews.

At a memorial service held for Finch in Nashville, friends and family remembered Finch for his quiet demeanor, his wry sense of humor, his compassion for people, his delight in reading and his love of nature.

A plaza behind the chapel bears Finch’s name, as does a faculty award that his wife and two sons created in his name. The William Carrington Finch Award is given every other year to a faculty member for accomplishment in furthering the aims of the University.