Richard Watson Finley, politician and businessman, the son of Rev. Robert S. and Mary H. (Cole) Finley, was born on November 9, 1851, in Lauderdale County, Mississippi. He was brought to Texas as a small child by his Methodist parents, who settled first in Anderson County. He was educated in Texas common schools and Marshall College, then moved to Jefferson, where he became a store clerk. He later moved to Queen City and began a successful cotton commission and warehouse business and served as a justice of the peace. In 1883 Finley moved to Austin, where he became a clerk in the office of the comptroller of public accounts. He worked there for eight years and eventually became the chief bookkeeper.
Finley was a consistent Democrat and, like his brother, Newton Webster Finley, a friend and loyal supporter of James Stephen Hogg. When Hogg became governor in 1891 he appointed Finley the financial agent for the Texas penitentiaries, at the time one of the most important gubernatorial appointments. In that post Finley labored successfully to make the state penitentiaries self-sustaining, a stated goal of the Hogg administration. In 1894 he was nominated by the Democratic party and then elected comptroller. He was reelected in 1896 and retired at the end of that term, when he entered private business in Austin as representative of the United States Cast Iron Pipe and Foundry Company and as an insurance commissioner for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. He was a founder of the Southwestern Water Works Association and a director of the Austin National Bank.
Finley married Matilda Texanna Blalock on July 16, 1873, and the couple had eight children. He died in Austin on December 12, 1937. He was an Elk, a Mason, an Odd Fellow, and a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.