John Francis Finger passed away peacefully after a two-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease on December 16, 2021 in Williamsburg, Virginia at the age of 87. He is preceded in death by his parents, Francis and Ethel Finger of the Bronx in New York City and his sister, Joan, of West Palm Beach, Florida.
John was born on April 7, 1934 in the Bronx. He lived in a close-knit neighborhood surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins who all lived on the same street. Family trips to the Jersey Shore fostered a lifelong love of fishing and swimming. John spent his teenage years lifeguarding at the local YMCA and at Jones Beach. Along the way, he picked up caddying jobs at various golf clubs which led to another love of his life – golf!
John graduated from Mount St. Michael’s High School in the Bronx. The Jesuit faculty helped to instill in John an appreciation for a liberal arts education. The end result of those formative years was a true renaissance man – gifted in both the arts and the sciences.
John attended Manhattan College in the Bronx on a ROTC scholarship and, as an electrical engineering major. He also found time to be on the Varsity swim team (lettering all four years). During this time, John met the real love of his life, Dorothy Dufficy of Mount Vernon, New York. Their courtship was glamorous and exciting – college balls and football games – all in the Big Apple!
After graduating from Manhattan College, John and Dorothy married in 1956 which led to another love of his life – Catholicism. As part of his love for Dorothy, John converted to Catholicism and remained a devout Catholic until the very end. As a jet pilot in the Air Force, John was promoted to Captain and served at bases in Georgia, Oklahoma and Illinois. In 1960, John accepted a position with GE in their aerospace division in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. While at GE, John helped to pioneer jet propulsion and satellite technology. He participated in many of the country’s initial space programs and defense systems. John and Dorothy settled in the Philadelphia area and started their family. In his spare time, John used his architect skills to design their first house and his carpentry skills to build a treehouse (which was a big hit with the neighborhood kids). During these years, John also enjoyed coaching various youth basketball and Little League baseball teams.
In 1971, John accepted a position with NASA and the family relocated to Williamsburg, Virginia. It was a big move for the diehard New Yorkers, but they quickly fell in love with Williamsburg and it became their forever home. The move also got them closer to the water (Queens Creek, York River, and Virginia Beach) where they spent many happy days boating, fishing, and going to the beach. It also got them closer to Florida, their favorite vacation spot. They ended up living in Williamsburg for close to fifty years. During that time, John tapped into his architectural and carpentry skills yet again to design two more houses along with accompanying woodworking projects. John worked the last 20 years of his career with Research Triangle Institute on government operations, specializing in radar and microwave tracking systems. During John’s long and illustrious career, he worked on the following missions: unmanned research satellites, Discoverer II space capsule (John and the team were photographed in Life Magazine celebrating its successful launch), Viking 1 and 2 Mars Missions, and the Stealth Bomber. While living in Virginia, John shared his passion for swimming by coaching in his spare time – first for Walsingham Academy in Williamsburg and then for the Coast Guard Blue Dolphins in Yorktown.
John was a prince of a man. Family and faith formed his life. He was a force of life with a bigger-than-life personality. He had a quick wit, generous nature, and a strong belief in doing your best. He imparted in his children and grandchildren a love of the water and its restorative nature. He was a kid at heart who loved playing all sports with his children (whether it was golf, pick-up basketball games, dirt bike riding, or fishing). He always made time for his children and loved watching them play sports. In his later years, he traveled extensively and doted on his grandchildren!
John is survived by Dorothy, his loving wife of 65 years. He is also survived by his children: Kevin (Victoria) Finger of North Topsail Beach, North Carolina; Craig (Mary Ann Devine) Finger of Stow, Ohio; and Elizabeth (Steve) Willen of Charlotte, North Carolina. John is also lovingly remembered as “Big Gramps” by his seven grandchildren: Brianna Finger of Playa Vista, California; John Finger of Stow, Ohio; Patrick Finger of Columbus, Ohio; Caitlin, Jack (Elizabeth Charles Burgess), and Brenna Willen of Charlotte, North Carolina; and Maeve Willen of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A funeral mass and private burial service will be held at a later date at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Alzheimer’s Association. Condolences can be sent to Verena, 123 Reserve Way, Williamsburg Virginia 23185 Attn: Dorothy Finger. The family would like to thank the Memory Care staff at Patriot’s Colony and Bucktrout Funeral Home for their care of John.