An email from Peter Finck arrived Thursday morning with a subject line that read: Very Sad News.
Because Peter was a man who liked to share a good laugh and a corny joke, I was certain his email would begin:
The Pillsbury Doughboy died today of a yeast infection and trauma complications from repeated pokes in the belly. He was 71 … Aunt Jemima delivered the eulogy and lovingly described Doughboy as a man who never knew how much he was kneaded.
But the opening lines read this way:
My father, Peter Finck (Pop Pop), passed away last night with a sudden heart attack. He was in good health and this was a huge shock.
The email was written by Peter’s oldest son, Chris, and sent to those in Peter’s address book.
Huge shock is right.
I’ve known Peter since the mid-1980s. I had the tennis beat and his younger son Greg was a tennis star at Centennial, winning four county titles and coming agonizingly close to winning a state singles title three times.
Peter loved tennis, and he loved to tell stories, often on himself.
Here’s a classic:
When Greg was 7, Peter spent the summer teaching him how to play tennis. By the fall he was ready to hand Greg over to a teaching pro to improve his game, so Peter took Greg to the Columbia Tennis Barn for his first lesson with Rip Salmon.
“After the lesson I expectantly waited to have Rip tell me that I had gotten Greg off to a good start and he would build on the progress already made. That was not exactly what Rip told me. He said that Greg might need at least eight weeks of weekly instruction to undo the flaws that had been built into his game, and then he would begin to develop as a player. My image of tennis-teacher parent was quickly and forever shattered.”
So while Rip did the teaching, Peter drove Greg to tournaments. He realized that some events were well run and others were not. That observation sparked his interest in administering tournaments.
For years each spring, he took time off from his “real” job as a pupil personnel worker for the Howard County school system to run the annual high school county tournament. He also ran the district tournament when it was held in Howard County.
For 15 years Peter also oversaw the Columbia Junior Open and the Columbia Flier Junior tournament each summer.
His name was synonymous with a well-run tournament and a tad bit of rain. He joked about his knack for producing a tournament-stopping shower.
A smile was never far from Peter’s face.
In 1992 and 2002, Peter was named Maryland state tournament director of the year. He represented Howard County on the Maryland Tennis Association, working his way up to president. He was also the MTA representative to the Mid-Atlantic Tennis Association, and he helped found the Howard County Tennis Association, whose goal is to promote the growth of junior tennis.
Peter’s involvement with local tennis led to his 2006 induction into the Howard County Community Sports Hall of Fame. He was a member of the second class of inductees.
Peter did more than administer tournaments. He was an avid player. In 2002, he was on the Columbia 3.0 men’s senior team that won the USTA League national title.
“What a good person,” said Karl Boin, who was also a member of that team.
When Peter retired from the school system, he and Sandy moved to Naperville to be closer to Chris and their grandchildren, Amanda, Riley and Dylan. Peter saw them every day.
“Pop Pop was my children’s best friend,” Chris wrote in an email. “He saw them for several hours every day and was their teacher, playmate and entertainer. He told his ‘not-so-funny’ jokes to them as much as he sent them to you in emails. My children always thought the jokes and stories were funny. Sometimes his humor was at the middle school level, which is not surprising given his 30 years as a teacher and school guidance counselor.”