Carolyn Finney, 92, longtime Phila. teacher

Carolyn Finney
Carolyn Finney
Posted: October 07, 2013

Carolyn Finney, 92, a teacher for 40 years at Martha Washington School in West Philadelphia, died Sunday, Sept. 15, of complications from cancer at Saunders House in Wynnewood.

"Finney," as she was known to friends, was a popular first-grade teacher who later became a reading specialist at Martha Washington. She was known for being a calm and structured person who laid out clearly what she expected of students and coworkers.

"She was old-school," said David Poindexter, who started out as her classroom aide and became like a son to her. "She expected students to be mannerly, to read, to enunciate and spell, and to write in cursive.

"Students have told me that those were the days that really helped them. They felt that their future was bright, if they just did what she told them to do."

Mrs. Finney lived for 46 years at the Iroquois Apartments on City Avenue before moving to Saunders House a week before her death.

"Everyone there loved her because she never complained," Poindexter said.

Mrs. Finney was born in Baltimore, the oldest of three daughters.

"Early on, it was clear Carolyn had a style all her own, quick wit and a keen sense of humor," Poindexter said in a statement.

She graduated from the public schools of Baltimore, and then in 1942 from Coppin State College with a bachelor's degree in elementary education.

After graduation, she moved to Philadelphia to take a teaching job at Martha Washington. At the same time, she completed a master's degree in reading education at St. Joseph University.

Her classroom, Poindexter said, was a relaxed place, much like a teacher's lounge. She offered tea and cookies to anyone who entered. "Sit down, my dear," she would say, Poindexter recalled. "You look tired."

Outside the classroom, her presence inspired instant obedience.

"Children knew when they saw her in the hallway, they'd better walk to the beat of her band. She wasn't taking any stuff from them," Poindexter said.

She enjoyed sending books and flowers to others without expecting anything in return, said Poindexter.

She stopped driving a Nissan three years ago, and for years nurtured a Volkswagen Beetle, which she kept spotless.

She believed in always wearing gloves.

In 1988, Mrs. Finney retired to spend time with family and friends.

Mrs. Finney was invited to join the Philadelphia Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority in the fall of 1960. The organization dedicates itself to sisterhood and public service.

"She loved chairing the hospitality committee, which she handled brilliantly from 1996 through 2004. She became a 50-year Delta member in 2010, and always wore her pin with pride," Poindexter said.

At St. Luke's Episcopal Church, where Mrs. Finney was a member, she arranged flowers and set up the altar in preparation for Sunday services. "She was very proud of her handiwork, and often sent pictures to family and friends to share in her delight," Poindexter said.

Her husband, James, an English professor at Cheyney University, died earlier. Surviving are a sister and nieces and nephews.

Services are planned for Monday, Oct. 7, at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 5421 Germantown Ave. An Omega Omega sorority funeral will be at noon, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 12:30. Burial is private.


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