Born in Broderick on the New Caledonia Farm, Bob was raised in Davis. He graduated from Davis High School in 1939. He attended UC Davis as a student in the non degree program. In 1940, he was the first All Star 4-H member from Yolo County.
From 1941 to 1945 he served in the US Army Signal Corps and participated in the Normandy invasion. He remained active in the reserves and saw service again in Korea.
In 1946 he married Catherine MacArthur, whom he had corresponded with during the War. Bob and Catherine moved to Davis where Bob worked with Alex MacDonald as assistant herdsman at the Animal Husbandry beef barn. The couple then moved to Amity, Oregon, where, for three years, Bob worked at Broadmead Farm. They returned to UC Davis in 1949 where Bob worked as a herdsman for the Veterinary School.
After returning from Korea in 1951, Bob became the shepherd for the UCD Animal Husbandry department, a position he held until his retirement in 1980. During part of this time, the Finlay family lived in a house on campus located across from the "new" sheep barn. An exceptional employee, Bob could be found at the barn at all hours of the day and night, especially during lambing season. He knew his sheep and his sheep dogs, raising Suffolk lambs that were high sellers at the California Ram Sale and training good working border collies. Many students passed through the Animal Husbandry department during Bob's tenure, gaining an appreciation for livestock and good husbandry techniques from him. During his years with the University, and continuing during his retirement, Bob was often consulted by sheep producers who respected him for his knowledge and his honest and candid statements.
Bob was a member of the California Wool Growers Association, serving for many years on their Ram Sale Committee. He was a recipient of their "Golden Fleece" award. When he lived in Oregon, he joined the Order of the Eastern Star and was a charter member of the Scottish Rite. Back in California he was a charter life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of Davis, a 50-year member of the Athens-Silveyville Masonic Lodge, and a member of American Legion. In addition he was active with Farm Bureau, USDA Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Committee, and USDA War Board.