John Fernandez Finch, Ph.D.

In Memoriam John Fernandez Finch, Ph.D.

by Karl L. Wuensch, Ph.D.

John Fernandez Finch, assistant professor of psychology, passed away this August 2012. John was an exceptionally gifted statistician, known worldwide for his work on structural equation modeling and hierarchical linear modeling.

John was born April 25, 1959, in Hanover, NH, and graduated from Hanover High School. His father John Wallace Finch was the founding chair of the Drama Department at Dartmouth College. Preceeded in death by his sister Marina Finch, John is survived by his mother Madeline Fernandez Finch of Siasconset, Mass, and by his sister Diana Finch and his niece Emily Soleil Higocia Henry, both of New York City.

After completing his B.A. in psychology at the University of Vermont, John entered the doctoral program in social/personality psychology at Arizona State University. Stephen G. West, previous editor for Psychological Methods, served as his advisor. At that time, ASU did not have a formal quantitative program, but John essentially created his own quantitative program, while also taking the courses required for the social/personality program at ASU. After completing his Ph.D., John accepted a position as assistant professor in psychology at Texas A&M University.

John was an active researcher, publishing articles in quantitative psychology, personality psychology, and community health and mental health. His publications have been highly cited. By the time he came to ECU, John had already accumulated over 700 total citations, and four of his articles had received over 50 citations each, including one methodological article with 200 citations. One of his methods articles (Finch & West, 1997) won the best article of the year award from the Journal of Research in Personality.

At Texas A&M, John guided the creation of a modern quantitative curriculum. Regretfully, the department at A&M went through a very rough patch while John was there. Twelve faculty members left the department. These twelve included the entire faculty, other than John, with interests in quantitative psychology. Although he had been promoted to associate professor with tenure, in 2004 John left A&M and enrolled in a masters program in biostatistics at UCLA. He completed the program in 2006 and then worked for the UCLA medical school as a statistical consultant.

In 2008, John applied for a faculty position in psychology at East Carolina University. I first met John when I picked him up at the Pitt/Greenville airport. As is so often the case, the flight was late, and it was dark. As we drove to campus, John noted that he had forgotten to bring a toothbrush, toothpaste, razor and shaving cream. I thought to myself, “This guy is even more absent-minded than am I.” Then I realized that I had driven from the airport to downtown without turning my headlights on. John was probably also thinking, “This guy is even more absent-minded than am I.”

At ECU, John taught both graduate level and undergraduate level courses in statistics. He quickly became known as the man to see for help with structural equation modeling and hierarchical linear modeling, and he was always eager to help both faculty and students. In his last year of life, John faced medical problems. We regret his untimely death and shall miss him greatly.