Robert Finch was born in Tempe, Arizona. After serving in the Marines briefly during World War II, he entered Occidental College in Los Angles where he graduated in 1947 with a bachelor's degree.
Following college, Mr. Finch went to Washington, D.C. where he worked as an administrative aide to Congressman Norris Poulson, representative from California. It was during this time that he met and became friendly with freshman Congressman Richard M. Nixon. Partly at Nixon's suggestion, Mr. Finch returned to California to study law at the University of Southern California where he took his LL.B. degree in 1951. After being admitted to the California bar, he practiced law until 1958 when he went back to Washington as administrative assistant to Vice-President Nixon. In 1960, Mr. Finch managed Vice-President Nixon's unsuccessful campaign for President of the United States.
In 1966, he was elected as Lieutenant Governor of California, serving under Governor Ronald Reagan until 1969, when he accepted a post in the Nixon Cabinet as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, a position he held until 1970.