Finley, LaFayette’s first black mayor, dies

Published 6:04 pm Thursday, November 29, 2018

LaFAYETTE – Robert Finley, the first black mayor of LaFayette, passed away at 65 years old this past Saturday at the East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika.

Finley was elected as mayor on Sept. 12, 2000, when he defeated former councilman Jeff Jones. Finley was also elected to the council in 1996 before being elected mayor.

He made headlines just minutes after being sworn in, as the police chief, fire chief and zoning inspector weren’t reappointed during Finley’s first meeting as mayor.

Email newsletter signup

In 2004, Finley was re-elected after defeating current mayor Barry Moody by a slim 24 votes. After his two terms, the political office slipped out of his hands as he lost in 2008 to Mathew Hurst, a 21-year-old.

Finley did not stop trying to win the office back, as he lost primaries in 2012 and 2016.

However, the man was much more than just a politician. He was a husband, father, grandfather and a friend to many throughout Chambers County.

Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart said he and Finley worked their way through the ranks of the sheriff’s department. Finley worked his way up from a deputy to the level of captain until he retired in January. Lockhart said after his retirement, Finley worked as a part-time transport officer in the jail.

“He was the most loyal employee I’ve ever had,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart said Finley rarely stopped working, because when he wasn’t on duty with the sheriff’s office, he was a brick mason on the side.

“He had arms as big of as my leg,” Lockhart said. “He was much of a man.”

Not only was Finley a hard worker, according to those who knew him, but he also paved the way for other young black men aspiring to enter politics.

“I was a young man who started to follow behind him,” LaFayette Councilman Toney Thomas said. “It inspired some of us as young black men that we could get into politics. He sort of paved the way.”

Toney said there are more black men and women running for elected positions in LaFayette now as a result of Finley’s work.

Even after Finley was out of office, Thomas said he continued to seek out his advice.

“He would always tell me, ‘You have the questions, I got the answers,’” Thomas said.

The current councilman also remembered a story related to a council meeting when he and another councilmember made Finley so angry that he broke his gavel while trying to maintain order.

Samuel Seroyer, owner of Silmon and Seroyer, said Finley was like a brother to him, and there were few in LaFayette who didn’t like him.   

“Everybody in this town loved him to death – white and black,” he said.

Seroyer said Finley wanted to help everybody, which is why he continually ran for office.

“He would give you the shirt off his back,” he said. “He accepted people, and he loved people.”

Additionally, Seroyer said if a person was arrested by Finley, it was because they deserved it.

If he put you in jail, you had to go to jail. He didn’t look for people to put in jail, but if you broke the law, he would put you in jail,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to tussle with the man, but if you did, he wouldn’t beat on you — he would manhandle you and put you in the car.”

Funeral services for Finley will be at 1 p.m. CST today, at New Mt. Sellers Baptist Church in LaFayette. Rev. Terry Magby and Rev. Douglas Jones will preside over the proceedings. Rev. Ed Vines will give the eulogy. Burial will follow in Handy Memorial Cemetery.