Al Finch of Florida dies at 55
Al Finch, president of Florida Classic Growers Inc. in Dundee, FL, died Tuesday, June 21, at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL. He was 55 years old. He had first been diagnosed with cancer in 2014.
Gene Allison Finch Jr. was born Aug. 2, 1966, in Lakeland, FL. He graduated from Lakeland High School in 1984, then attended Stetson University in Deland, FL, where he earned a bachelor of business administration degree in 1988. He minored in history, and remained "an avid history lover" for the rest of his life, noted his wife, Melissa.
Immediately after college, he worked in the construction industry for a number of years. After that he joined Publix Supermarkets, where he worked in the produce department for a short time before joining the Florida Department of Citrus, where he spent about five years.
Mr. Finch joined Florida Classic Growers, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dundee Citrus Growers Association in Dundee, FL, in 1999. He was named president of Florida Classic Growers in 2014.
"He's a very special person," said Steven B. Callaham, CEO at Dundee Citrus Growers Association. "Not just a co-worker but a good friend. He was a good friend not just to the Florida citrus industry but to the produce industry in general. He has a lot of friends."
He continued, "Al was a relationship builder. He was a very humble person, extremely easy to talk to. Over his life and his career, he's built so many strong relationships in the industry. It seemed so often that the relationships he made on a business level turned personal. I'm just amazed how many people would refer to Al as his friend. And he was."
Mr. Finch was very much involved with the Southeast Produce Council since its earliest days. He was a member since 1999. He served on its board of directors from 2003 to 2008, and led that board as president (now called chairman) from 2006 to 2008. He also served on the council's board of governors from 2014 until his passing.
David Sherrod, the council's president and CEO, shared his thoughts about Mr. Finch.
"Al was and has continued to be an instrumental part of the SEPC," said Sherrod. "His leadership in the early years helped establish the council as more than just a regional show. He helped to create the model of sponsoring the buyers at our shows and building programs that revolved around them. This was unique in the early 2000s, but has since become the standard for the industry. Under his direction, we also added new charitable partners to expand our community efforts throughout the Southeast. After his tenure, he continued to serve the council as a member of the board of governors."
He added, "On a personal note, Al was like a brother to me and others in the SEPC. He was a walking testimony of his faith and always gave God the glory for letting him live another day. He was an inspiration to all who knew him in spite of his health battles. I am still amazed at his intentional spirit and his deep commitment to our Lord and to his family. I am a better man for having Al in my life just because of his example."
Andrew Scott of Nickey Gregory Co. in Atlanta shared these thoughts about his longtime friend.
"Words are hard to describe the loss of a very good friend. Al Finch was that friend, a great dad to Gavin and Alex and a faithful, serving husband to Melissa. I watched their boys grow up over the years as I would stay with them while in Florida. Al and Melissa have done a wonderful job of raising their sons over the years, and they should be proud," he said.
"Al and I first met at one of the inaugural SEPC events in the fall of 2004 and became 'brothers' ever since. We attended many sporting events together over the past 18-plus years, including the Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Bucs for 15 of the past 17 years. It was a tradition we looked forward to when the NFL schedule came out each spring."
He concluded, "Al loved his own family and his big SEPC family, reading the Bible every morning, attending Florida Gator and Tampa Bay Buccaneer games with his son Gavin, 80s rap music, spring training baseball, a good red wine and fellowship amongst his produce family. Cheers to my brother up above, Al Finch!"
Mr. Finch and Melissa were married on May 2, 1998. In addition to her, Mr. Finch is survived by their sons, Gavin, 18, and Alex, 13, and his sister, Alexis Rocker.
A funeral and celebration of life is planned for 10:30 a.m. Saturday, July 9, at All Saints Episcopal Church in Lakeland, FL. The family suggests that donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.