He was a man everybody loved, says longtime friend Nicky Gilleland about Charles Finley. I dont think I ever met anybody that everybody loved, but everybody loved Charles.
Finley, a retired educator and Dawson County historian, died July 4 at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. He was 64 years old.
Finley was hospitalized after sustaining severe injuries in a two-vehicle wreck June 16 that also injured his wife, Kathy, who remains at Grady. At the time of the incident, the Georgia State Patrol listed among Finleys injuries two broken legs and a broken right arm.
The driver of the second vehicle in the June accident, Mickey Bunton of Gainesville, was transported via air to Atlanta Medical Center. Information on Buntons condition was not available.
No charges originally were filed in the incident. But since Finleys death, the case has been turned over to the district attorneys office, which has been corresponding with the GSP Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team (SCRT).
While Kathy Finley has steadily recovered and is expected to be discharged soon from the hospital to enter a rehabilitation center, Charles Finley had been in and out of surgery for multiple reasons, including internal bleeding.
He died from multiple organ failure, according to family friend and director of Beardens Funeral Home Ted Bearden.
Born July 5, 1947, Finley was a lifelong Dawson County resident whose path seemingly lent itself to an inevitable career in education. Gilleland remembers how Finleys mother was an educator, and how they lived on the same street with several employees of the Dawson County School System.
He had a love for kids, and he seemed to have a way of reaching the tough kids, Gilleland said. He had a way of helping them succeed.
Finley was hired as a third-grade teacher in March 1970, and continued through the 1985-86 school year. Tim Whitmire was one of his first students.
Hes probably the reason I went to the University of Georgia, Whitmire said.
Whitmire, who was a classmate of current school superintendent Keith Porter, recalled how Finley encouraged the love of the Georgia Bulldogs among his students, even those who were Tech fans.
Wed have some good fun ribbing about the rivalry, Whitmire chuckled. I can still remember when teachers would give out Valentines, and on the boys valentines from Mr. Finley there was a little Georgia Bulldog on the cover.
Finley went on to be the media specialist from 1986 through 2000. In 1987, he was selected as the system teacher of the year.
He was the one in Dawson County that really bridged the gap between the library and a media center, Whitmire, a former member of the board of education, recalled. Things like bringing computers into media labs, involving the library being more than just books but being a resource center to kids.
Even though he retired in 2000, Mr. Finley continued to work part-time in the media center at Robinson Elementary. His love for students is unsurpassed, said Porter. Early in his teaching career, he would transport a student with special needs to and from school because our bus system was limited. Porter also recalled a time when Finley arranged for a helicopter to visit the school so a student with special needs could see a helicopter.
Even when he came back to work half-time after he had retired, his vehicle would always be one of the first in the parking lot, Porter continued. He made it a point to get to school early so that he could stand in the foyer of the school each morning to greet not only the students in his class, but every student who came into Robinson Elementary School.
He believed that each and every child deserved a warm greeting and a smile to start their day.
Finley was also involved in athletics, serving in a variety of capacities, including as assistant basketball coach for the boys team, and girls basketball coach for a few seasons.
During his youth, friends recalled that Finley lived across the street from the school, where he helped his mother run a ceramics shop.
I remember doing that because ceramics was taught at that time as an art course at the high school, Bearden recalled. Charles would be in there in the afternoons, helping.
The teacher had spent 42 years with the Dawson County School System. He was a known historian, interested in genealogy and preserving local history. He was in the midst of completing a book on the history of Dawson at the time of the accident.
He would go to nursing homes and peoples homes, Gilleland recalled. He would just sit and talk with them. He loved to do those kinds of things. He loved to be outside and work in his garden. He was a tinkerer.
Friend and co-author Byron Burgess had already compiled one book with Finley through the Hightower Baptist Association. They were compiling a second book. Hes the nicest man that I know, Burgess said, his voice catching. I never heard him say anything bad about anybody. He was just a real nice person, and a very cooperative person. Anything you asked him to do, he was more than happy to do it.
He was an excellent writer, Burgess continued, a much better writer than I was.
Plans to finish the book the two were working on are under way. I want to put together an article in the second book on him, and what he meant and how things came together, Burgess said.
Finley was also working on preserving other aspects of history in the county.
He was working on obtaining pictures of members of the Dawson County High School Sports Hall of Fame the day before his car accident, Porter said. He wanted pictures of each Hall of Fame inductee to put on the wall of the gymnasium so that these individuals would get the appropriate recognition and be remembered for years to come.
Mr. Finley stayed involved in the community, with his charitable involvements involving bettering the lives of local children.
Charles was instrumental in the formation of the Jaycees here, said Bearden. The Jaycees are what is really the foundation of the old fall festival, which is now the Moonshine Festival, and the Empty Stocking Fund, which is now KARE for Kids.
He was extremely instrumental in establishing those two things that still go on today.
I got to know him real well after we chartered the Jaycees here, said local historian Gordon Pirkle. Pirkle recalled how Finley was elected as the state vice president of the Jaycees after the local chapter had been set up for only two years.
Charles was just a great person, Pirkle said. He had the strongest principles of any man Id known, but he was an understanding person. He didnt put people down for what they did.
Porter remembers Finley not only as a friend and coworker, but as his former third-grade teacher.
To this day, I refer to him as Mr. Finley because of my respect for him as my teacher, Porter said. We shared a love for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, and he would take the time to talk about the Bulldogs football team with me when I was in his third grade class so as to connect with me on a personal level. He encouraged my efforts to become a teacher all along the way.
When he met Kathy, that was just a Godsend, Gilleland said. She helped complete him, I think.
I think sometimes parents are identified a lot of times by their kids, and ... he would have been so proud of the way Ben has handled himself (over the past few weeks). His son will be a living legacy of his.
Finley is survived by his wife, Kathy, and son, Ben, along with a number of other relatives.
The family will receive friends July 14, from 1 to 4 p.m., and the funeral is Sunday, July 15, at 2 p.m. Both take place at Beardens Funeral Home.
Hes for so long been a pillar in the community, said Bearden, so when something like this happens to one of our own, it kind of rattles the foundation of the entire community.