By Ron Hayes
OCEAN RIDGE — Bill Finley died while putting the finishing touches on a science fiction novel called Saving the Moon.
He’d already made his mark on Earth.
At his death from congestive heart failure on Jan. 25, Mr. Finley left behind 93 years filled with innovation and adventure. He had been a warrior, a scholar, a planner, a builder, a writer, a husband, a father, a dreamer and a doer.
In Palm Beach County, the Community Partners exists because he did, and so does SunFest.
“Bill was a genius in many ways,” said his wife, Anita Finley. “Creative, but such a kind, loving soul. He thought in big terms, and whatever he did had to be good for the community.”
A resident of Ocean Ridge for 28 years, Mr. Finley was born in Chicago on Oct. 29, 1923.
After graduating from high school, Mr. Finley enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 and flew 35 bombing missions over Germany, for which he was awarded five Air Medals, three Battle Stars and two unit commendations.
He earned an A.B. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1949 and, two years later, that school’s first master’s degree in city and regional planning.
In 1958, he arrived in Washington, D.C., to serve as director of the National Capital Planning Commission under Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy.
Leaving government in 1962, he made one of his most lasting contributions by joining the Rouse Co. to develop a new city in Maryland. In June, Columbia, Maryland, pop. 100,000, will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Mr. Finley came to Miami in 1972 to help create INTERAMA, the Inter-American Trade and Cultural Center, scheduled to open in 1976 to mark the American Bicentennial. However, the bond market collapsed, and the $200 million project was never completed. Today, it is the site of Florida International University.
In Florida, Mr. Finley lost INTERAMA, but found a wife who would share his life for the next 43 years.
“I saw her from a distance,” he told The Coastal Star last year. “She was tall and gorgeous with a big smile and waving to everyone.”
The couple were married in 1974, and for the next four decades, Florida would benefit from Bill Finley’s presence.
In 1980, he went to work for the Banker’s Land Co., a subsidiary of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to develop the city of Palm Beach Gardens.
He helped turn the Royal Palm Festival into SunFest and a 1939 armory building into the Armory Art Center. With his wife, he co-founded Boomer Times and Senior Life, a multimedia company.
Mr. Finley’s greatest service to the area came in 1986 when, as chairman of the county’s Affordable Housing Task Force, he led the effort to create and fund the Housing Partnership. In 2001, the partnership took over management of the struggling Parent-Child Center, providing mental health services to families. Today, both agencies operate as Community Partners.
In 2012, he received the agency’s first William E. Finley Founder’s Award for his “courageous and visionary leadership.”
In his later years, Mr. Finley turned to writing, publishing both light fiction, Killing in BocaLand (2012), and serious studies, A Bold Proposal for American Cities (2015).
And then, as his own time on Earth drew to a close, he turned his attention to Saving the Moon.
“I’m so privileged to have had him in my life,” Anita Finley said. “He was just a brilliant guy who was also kind and loving. And now he’s on a new adventure.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Finley is survived by his sons, Kelly Cuthbertson, of California, and Chandler Finley (Stefania) and Joey Richards, both of Miami; a daughter, Kim Finley, of Oregon; and three grandchildren, Colette, Lawrence and Jasmine Finley, of Miami.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.
By Ron Hayes