MISSOULA — Thomas Lyle Finch, 96, died peacefully in his home on Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Tom’s long, engaging life began on Aug. 21, 1921, in Spokane, where he and his older brother and sister were raised among a large extended family. He often talked of the many outdoor camping and fishing trips the family enjoyed, which were a genesis for his love of the outdoors and the forests. After graduation from high school, Tom set out for Montana State University (now the U of M), where he received a degree in forestry — the first in his family to earn a degree.
In 1942, while at college, he met the temporary replacement for the secretary at the School of Forestry, June Delaney, and they were married Jan. 1, 1943, before he began serving active duty in the U.S. Army from 1943-46. Stateside assignments made it possible for them to be together for one of the three years of service, but for the remainder, Tom was in the Pacific Theater and was part of the occupying forces in Japan after their defeat in WWII. He remembered and shared many interesting stories about his assignments north of Tokyo.
Tom and June’s son, Terry L. Finch was born in May of 1946 and was almost two when Tom returned from the war and got to meet him for the first time. He is now known as Michael T. Delaney and lives in Missoula. For many years Michael performed dynamic impersonations of Mark Twain at First Night events and in many other communities around Montana.
After returning from the war, he joined the Forest Service in 1947 and served there until retiring in 1972. He served in many different forest regions including Missoula, St. Maries, Metaline Falls, Palouse and then back to Missoula. Tom and June bought a home on Beckwith in 1964, where they resided and were “adopted” as neighborhood grandparents. Tom began his Forest Service career as a surveyor and mapper in the Sullivan Lake District. He was a fire fighter, a district supervisor, he did timber inventories and was involved in many land swaps, the most notable being the land transfer with The Big Sky Resort. He had a thank-you letter in his file from Chet Huntley praising him for his excellent representation of the Forest service in that exchange.
Everywhere the Finch’s lived, while moving often with the Forest Service, they joined a Presbyterian Church and got involved with other community activities. As a dearly loved member of First Pres. Church of Missoula, Tom commented that he had served in about every position of leadership available — as an elder, president of the campus ministry, the rebuilding-after-the-fire committee, pastor-seeking committees, the Fellowship Hall building committee, and various other roles.
After retirement, Tom and June enjoyed swing and round dancing, cruising, traveling, fishing and camping. They also began buying and building houses to remodel for rent or sale. Their final project was the log cabin they built on a 40 acre piece of remote forest land in the Swan River Valley, which they named “Finch Forte”. They spent many years enjoying and improving that site. Tom’s beloved wife, June, passed away in May of 2012.
Tom’s life will be joyously celebrated at a memorial service on Thursday, March 15, at 1:30 at the First Presbyterian Church, 235 S. Fifth St. W. with Rev. Dan Cravy presiding. An afternoon tea reception will follow the service in the Fellowship Hall to honor Tom’s English heritage and love of tea. In lieu of flowers, please consider memorial gifts to First Presbyterian Church or the charity of your choice. Cremation is being handled by Brothers Mortuary and Crematory.