Tribute to Mr Richard Finlay

It is with great sadness that I must inform you of the death of our former Principal and friend Mr Richard Finlay BA MSc, who passed away on the evening of 14th December after a short illness.

Mr Finlay was educated at Methodist College Belfast before taking an Arts degree at Queens University Belfast, with a post graduate qualification in Education. He was also awarded a Masters Degree from Ulster University.

He was widely known in sporting circles having played both hockey and cricket for Queens, being awarded a University Blue in both. He was a member of the British Universities Hockey team and during his sporting career, won both Ulster and Irish senior trophies.

He entered the teaching profession as a Geography, Geology and Politics teacher at Methodist College prior to moving to the South Eastern Education and Library Board in 1979, where he undertook a leading role in devolving funding arrangements to schools.

He was appointed Principal of Glenlola Collegiate School in 1992 and guided the School for the next 18 years through changing, and often challenging, times using his excellent organisational skills with great drive and passion. He had a clear vision for the School which was forward-looking and focussed on excellence. True to this vision, Glenlola Collegiate was awarded the Charter Mark for Excellence at a ceremony in London in 1997.

His greatest legacy at Glenlola, however, was the planning and building of a new long-awaited school building, on the current Castle Park site in 2003. He enthusiastically negotiated the location of the new building, oversaw architects’ drawings and even recommended, in his wisdom, that the basement area not be filled in but left open for future use. This area now houses additional classrooms, laboratories, a recreation hall, and the Wellness Centre.

Mr Finlay also led work on new educational partnerships. He was one of four principals who created the Bangor Learning Partnership and the first chair of the North Down and Ards Learning Community. Bringing together sixteen post-primary schools, NDALC was created to deliver the Entitlement Framework and, as a consequence, he helped to build a larger and stronger community of schools. He was a leading figure in the Association of Controlled Grammar Schools which continues its work to this day in maintaining the high-quality grammar provision for which the Northern Irish education system is well known. He was a strong advocate for the grammar school system in Northern Ireland, often contributing to wider debate and appearing in media interviews to set out his views.

Mr Finlay leaves a long and enduring legacy at Glenlola Collegiate School. Following his retirement in 2010 he continued to take an active interest in the School, often attending events and productions. He enjoyed his retirement in Bangor where he was often seen out walking and chatting to former colleagues and pupils.

We pass on our sincere and heartfelt condolences to his wife Vivien, his children Richard, David and Jayne, his grandchildren and the wider circle of colleagues and friends who will miss him dearly.

Although I met Richard Finlay for the first time a few months before he handed over the principalship of Glenlola Collegiate in 2010, his reputation in educational circles had been known to me for some years.

He was a gifted leader with the rare quality of being able to bring people with him. Perhaps this talent was down to the way he could employ both a strength of purpose and gentle humour in equal measure as the occasion demanded. Whatever it was, those who were fortunate to work under his leadership were glad to follow him.

It was my honour to enjoy an evening with Richard in June of this year at a celebration dinner marking the 125th anniversary of the founding of Glenlola. He was in great form. Warm, witty and full of fun. That is how I will remember him. Glenlola Collegiate School and the wider education community in North Down are the better for his legacy.

WE Thompson
15th December 2023