Jerry Elliott Finger passed away on the 3rd of February 2016, after a life well lived. He died surrounded by, and comforted by friends and family. His death was caused by complications from emphysema. Jerry lived a full life that included many achievements and experiences, but none were greater than the relationships he enjoyed with friends, family, associates and business partners, students and the many lives he touched and made better by his enthusiasm and generous heart.
He was born on the 11th of October 1932, in Houston, Texas to Hyman and Bessie Finger. He was later joined by his two brothers, Marvy and Ronny, to whom he was close to his entire life. Growing up, he attended Sutton Elementary School and later attended military school at Allen Academy in Bryan, Texas for part of his middle school years. He only ran away once from Allen Academy, and it was because he had the flu and came home to get proper care from his mother. He attended high school at San Jacinto High School and graduated in 1949. Only seventeen upon graduation from high school, he attended Williston Academy in Easthampton, MA in 1950 for an additional year of study, and during that time, spent a summer with his Uncle Tobias Gordon in Wharton, Texas, where he developed a life-long passion for reading.
He attended Tulane University for two years before transferring to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and graduating with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics in 1954. While at Wharton, he was enrolled in naval officer training school and upon graduation, he enlisted in the Navy. He served from 1954 to 1956 on the U.S.S. Bottineau, an amphibious transport ship, as a line officer with the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. Just after graduating from Wharton, he married Nanette Breitenbach of Houston, Texas, and they were immediately stationed at a naval base in Norfolk, VA. where their first son Richard was born in 1956.
From his experience in the Navy, Jerry developed a life-long love of the sea, boats, sailing and anything nautical, including grog. After leaving the Navy in 1956, Jerry & Nanette returned home to Houston and began to raise their family. He began his career in the accounting department at Finger Furniture, working with his father, Hyman, in building the business. Because his thesis at Wharton had been about retail financing, Jerry had a strong understanding about banking. Although still young, he took many trips to New York and Chicago to help arrange financing for Finger Furniture with major New York banks. In 1960, his father left the furniture business he had founded in 1926, and Jerry followed. While Jerry found success as an entrepreneur in a variety of ventures, the twins Walter and Jonathan were born in 1959, and with a growing family, he needed what he referred to as a steady paycheck on the “1st and 15th”. He liked the simplicity of the banking business where you earned a spread over your cost of funds and closed the books every day.
In those days, it was difficult to get a bank charter. One had to prove there was a need, and not too much competition in a certain market area. His first two bank charter applications were denied. That did not deter Jerry. On his third try, he was awarded a charter to establish a bank at 5200 North Shepard Drive, and he founded Republic National Bank in 1963. In those days, that part of North Shepard drive was a strip of used car dealers and junk yards, and Jerry had to work tirelessly to grow his bank. Nonetheless, Jerry persevered and proved to be a good judge of character, both in the people he hired and in the people to whom he chose to loan money. As Houston grew during the 1960’s and 1970’s, so did Republic National Bank. He opened two new banks in the early 1970’s near FM 1960, and changed the name to Charter National Bank to avoid confusion with a larger bank in Dallas of the same name. During these times, he also worked with his brothers, Marvy and Ronny, helping them raise money for a number of their earlier apartment projects. Jerry’s knowledge of banking and real estate prepared him well for the challenges he faced in the mid-1980’s when Houston experienced a prolonged economic downturn. A drop in oil prices coupled with overbuilding led to a drop in real estate prices and a banking crisis. Jerry fought tirelessly to save his company, and would often recount that when he got knocked down, he kept getting up and continued to fight. He was realistic about loans that turned sour, and he worked with borrowers when he could and took losses when he had to. He did not rely on the hope of a better tomorrow, but rather he took affirmative action to improve his position. The result was that his bank was the largest locally owned bank in Houston not to fail or be taken over by an out of state bank during the 1980’s downturn. This was an achievement that Jerry was extremely proud of and also earned him great respect in the Houston business community. After the banking crisis, Jerry grew Charter Bank through a number of acquisitions before selling his company to NationsBank in 1996.
After banking, Jerry set up a family office, but also devoted a goodly part of his energies to philanthropy and to teaching. He often said that “he had had a good roll and held the dice for a long time”. He understood how fortunate he was to have done well, been healthy and enjoyed a full life. He felt very strongly that he had a duty to give back to the community. He taught Entrepreneurship, and later Real Estate Development, as an Adjunct Professor at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University for 19 years before retiring in 2015. He loved imparting to his students the many lessons he had learned and wisdom he had acquired from both his successes and failures in business over the years. He always taught his students the importance of weighing the potential risk vs. potential reward in business and in life. He tried to help his students in any way, often connecting them with prospective employers and giving them steady, old fashioned encouragement to believe in their own abilities. It was a reflection of how he lived his life; he always believed in the strength of the individual to change their situation and the many possibilities in life. To Jerry, few things were impossible.
In philanthropy, in addition to his financial support for so many causes, he gave both of his time and his energy. On many of the charitable boards he served on, he offered his (sometimes unsolicited) advice and business experience on what not-for-profit organizations needed to be successful. He served on many corporate and philanthropic boards, often in leadership positions, including The Foundation for the National Archives in Washington, D.C., The Aspen Institute, The Anderson Ranch Arts Center, The Alley Theatre, The Wharton Graduate School Board, University of Pennsylvania, Texas A&M University at Galveston, The Williston Northampton School, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Methodist Center for the Performing Arts Medicine, Rice University – Jones School Council of Overseers, Theatre Masters – Aspen, InPrint Houston, Young President Organization, Chief Executives Organization, World Presidents Organization, Houston Community College, Houston Lighthouse for the Blind, Houston Youth Symphony and Ballet, Contemporary Arts Museum-Houston, Houston Clearing House Association, Wortham Theatre Center, The Heritage Society, Coastal Industrial Water Authority, Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Houston Area Girl Scouts Council, Memorial Hermann Hospital Foundation, National Board of the Aspen Art Museum, Texas Bankers Association, Gulf Resources & Chemical Co., Gulf Republic Financial Corp., Texas Commerce Bank/Reagan, Beaumont Savings & Loan Association, Home Savings & Loan Association, VectraBank-Colorado, Southwest Mortgage & Realty, National Standard Bank, United Foods, and SMC Industries.
As well as his success in business and his service to the community, he was a loving husband, father and grandfather. Jerry and Nanette enjoyed a long and fruitful marriage of over 62 years, and together they raised three sons, Richard, Walter and Jonathan, of whom he was very proud. A demanding and loving parent, he saw his mission as a father was to prepare them for the challenges they might face in in life with love and support. He and Nanette exposed them to as many things as possible and gave them every educational opportunity. Aspen and Galveston were very special to Jerry. Jerry and Nanette enjoyed spending time at their homes in Galveston and Aspen, and loved to entertain guests and friends at their homes there. He and Nanette were known as gracious hosts to many, and their home was always open to friends in need. They also travelled extensively, often with the Young Presidents Organization, and made friends from all over the world.
In addition to Nanette and his sons, he is survived by ten grandchildren, Evans, Kerbey and Bennett Finger (Walter & Toni), Robert, Nathaniel and Carson Finger (Jonathan & Karen), and Arianna, Ava and Anabelle Finger and Quentin Baxter (Richard Finger and Martha Baxter Finger). His is also survived by his brother, Marvy Finger and his wife Elaine and nephews and nieces Jill Jewett (Dunham), Edward Finger, Scott Finger, Jan Geniesse (Tom), Karen Sachar (Jon), Nanette McWhertor (Marty), and Jerry Maltz (Ann).
The family would like to thank Jerry’s many friends who visited and supported him during his long illness. They would also like to thank his caregiver and friend, Laura Diaz, his caregiver Ken Hall and his loyal doctors, Dr. Holly Holmes and Dr. Marcia Katz.
One thought on “Jerry Finger ’50”
Class of 1950- Wow he is a survivor, nice guy, nice essay.
A Williston education must inspire one for a full life. I just retired from my business last year. There is no bucket list, I am living my bucket list.
Good luck to Jerry’s family and good luck to you.