Elsie Franz Finley: Agent of Change, Friend of Providence

November 01, 2019

PORTLAND, Ore. — The best measure of the generosity of Elsie Franz Finley is not a dollar figure, but rather by the hope her lifetime of philanthropy has given to so many in the community and across the Northwest.

In recognition of her decades of support, totaling more than $62 million, Providence Portland Medical Center has named the radiation oncology department in her honor: The Elsie Franz Finley Radiation Oncology Center. 

In January 2020, patients will begin benefiting from the most cutting-edge radiation technology to date. The MR Linac, a gift from Franz Finley, uses MRI-guided radiation for pin-point accuracy to maximize tumor killing and minimize damage to normal tissue. Providence will be the first facility in the Pacific Northwest to offer this level of care to cancer patients.

“Elsie was a change agent,” said Janeen McAninch, chief executive officer of Becker Capital Management and financial advisor and friend to Franz Finley and her brother Robert W. Franz. “Elsie was deeply involved with how her financial gifts would be used – she hoped they would be truly transformational and make a significant difference in the future.”

Franz Finley, who died in August 2018 at age 97, spent decades as a pioneering businesswoman and philanthropic leader in Oregon, faithfully reading the Wall Street Journal every day. She graduated from University of Oregon in 1943 with a business degree and began a long career in banking with her brother Robert and husband, Don Finley, at the family-owned First State Bank of Milwaukie. That financial institution eventually became Pacific Western Bank and merged with KeyBank in 1986. She was a leader at a time when there were few visible female leaders.

“Elsie was well ahead of her time from a business point of view,” said McAninch. “Anything was possible – ‘no’ was not an acceptable answer.”

The belief anything was possible defined her as a business woman, a community leader, and a philanthropist.

“She was phenomenally sharp and insightful about investing,” said McAninch. “Elsie said she made her money in Oregon, and she wanted it to stay in Oregon.”

Providence is honored to have benefited from the vision and support of Franz Finley and her brother for more than 30 years. Their longtime relationship with Providence Portland Medical Center led them to establish the Robert W. Franz Cancer Research Center, led by Walter J. Urba, M.D., Ph.D., which is located within Robert W. Franz Cancer Center in Portland. 

The center’s main area of investigation is cancer immunotherapy, a specialized field of study focused on triggering the immune system to fight cancer. Thanks to their early and consistent investments in cancer research at Providence, Dr. Urba and his colleagues are well-known worldwide as pioneering leaders in immunotherapy.

“While the gifts from Elsie and Bob at the end of their lives are so important for our future growth, I think it’s fair to say we wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for their gifts early on when we were just getting started,” said Dr. Urba. “They helped us get off the ground, they helped us recruit our initial investigators, they helped support us every step of the way as we learned what it takes to be a successful research center.”

Combined, over the years, Franz Finley and Franz gave more than $100 million to Providence, which supported a range of programs from cancer research to caring for medically fragile children. 

“She wanted her money to be spent and put to use,” said Kelly Buechler, interim chief philanthropy officer, Providence Foundations of Oregon. “Elsie and Bob’s generosity has helped us hire amazing minds and expand our cancer research space.”

Franz Finley actively participated in deciding how her support was directed, and as a result, Providence patients and caregivers are in her debt.

Her most recent gift designations include $13.4 million for cancer research; $4.5 million for the MR Linac; $4.4 million for genomic technology and researchers; $1.3 million for oncology nursing education; and $1 million each for palliative care and an oncology nutrition program.

“Her gifts touched every aspect of what we do – clinical care, research, and technology,” said Dr. Urba. “There is no end to how much good her gifts will help us do.”

In addition to supporting Providence Cancer Institute, Franz Finley gave generously to Providence Milwaukie Hospital’s Family Residency Program, Providence Child Center, and the Gilbert Chair for Infectious Diseases at Providence Portland Medical Center.

“She was a truly amazing lady,” said Buechler. “She had an impact on Providence that will be felt for generations.”