|Jim Finch speaks at the Annandale Athletic Boosters Hall of Fame banquet in 2018.|
He “passed away peacefully in the presence of his loving family,” his daughter Dana Conlon reported on Facebook.
“Not only did he love his students, he loved his faculty, his support staff, and parents,” Conlon wrote. “He considered them equal partners in the success of the AHS community. Dad loved to hire former students as teachers, coaches, and support staff. Once an Atom, always an Atom!”
Finch joined the Annandale faculty in 1957 as a history teacher and coach and was named assistant principal in 1960.
In 2018, Finch was among the first group inducted into the Annandale Athletic Boosters Hall of Fame.
Every year, the Annandale PTSA awards the James Finch Service and Leadership Scholarship to a student who has demonstrated outstanding leadership, school spirit, and community service.
Finch grew up in Greensboro, N.C. He served as student body president in high school. He graduated from Guilford University, joined the Navy, then earned a master’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina in 1954. He was a member of the Naval Reserve, retiring in 1970 with the rank of commander.
Finch spoke his time at Annandale High School in an interview for the Oral History of the Principalship conducted by Virginia Tech in 1987.
At the beginning of his time as principal, AHS was part of a community where most people owned their own homes and took pride in their school, he recalled. It was like a family – “a family of teachers and students and the community.”
A key part of the community’s support for the school was due to the Annandale Atoms powerhouse football team, which won five state championships during Finch’s tenure (and a sixth in 1993) and won the National Championship in 1978.
Over the decades, the community became more transient as apartments were built in Annandale, and the population became increasingly diverse, he recalled.
“Annandale was still a good school. There are still many things there that are very positive. And the thing that both my predecessor and I tried to present about Annandale was that the good years were still ahead,” he said. Finch was the second principal of Annandale, following Ralph Buckley, who was principal when the school opened in 1954.
Finch described his leadership philosophy for AHS as helping young people “develop sound bodies and sound minds and seek goals before they moved on from high school.”
His tenure spanned turbulent times, as AHS was affected by the drug culture and the conflict over the war in Vietnam. When asked about some of the major challenges he faced, Finch cited “a near riot” in 1970 following the Kent State shooting, which involved a clash between students who opposed the war and others who supported it.
That incident made the TV news, as well as a situation in 1970 when Finch was criticized for not suspending 25 students who egged the home of the student newspaper editor who had denigrated the football team. Finch was exonerated when the school board agreed that schools should not punish students for actions committed outside of school.
Another traumatic event involved Finch’s decision to close the school at 9:45 a.m. when a water main break flooded Four Year Run and there was concern that the buses wouldn’t be able to come at the end of the day.
That was “the toughest decision I had to make as a principal,” he said. “I knew that I was laying my career on the line and yet I felt that I was right” and that the top priority must be for the safety and welfare and students and faculty. “As luck would have it, things turned out all right, and I was right.”