Words of Remembrance
Obituary of Bruce Finnie
Bruce Finnie began his life in Memphis, and though he left just after his first decade, it was a place that left its stamp on him, expressed through his lifelong love of jazz and southern barbeque, and rich, vivid memories of fishing with his father on the wild Mississippi River delta between Tennessee and Arkansas. His life there, poised to join his father in a roofing business (with “& son” already painted on the door) was disrupted suddenly and irrevocably by his father’s untimely death when Bruce was only 11. He was uprooted from the hot Memphis streets of his youth and taken to live with his grandparents in Cleveland. He would say of what followed that he had to “invent everything” about life from that point on, himself.
His life pivoted yet again when, through his exemplary service as a paperboy for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he was awarded a scholarship to Phillips Academy Andover in faraway Massachusetts. His mother refused the offer at first, but the donors persisted, and Bruce went off to join another world, a seminal, beloved place that would, as he said, become his family. At Andover, Bruce was exposed to teachers and fellow students that opened up a completely different path for his life, a path that took him to a full scholarship to Harvard and a life in higher education, including, for more than 30 years, at Princeton University.
Bruce wore his credentials lightly. He declined to be referred to as “Dr. Finnie,” though his work at Harvard in Sociology included a sports fan study, and developing some of the first use of computers in sociological research, analyzing data from the now-famous Harvard health study. He and his best friend Harry Scarr became sought-after experts, and it was this expertise that drew him to Princeton. Recruited to be the Registrar, he asked, “what’s a registrar?” But he leaped in, and did not look back, automating registration, class scheduling, and grades at Princeton for the first time. This was the first of several roles at Princeton where he championed “zero errors” – but always put people first. He was a beloved manager and a relied-upon leader, tapped for a series of roles bringing computation to university processes. He became an iconic figure on the campus, walking with his beloved Beagle, “Took,” sending zingers on the squash courts at Dillon gym and on the softball field, and teaching as a “preceptor” in sports sociology, dubbed “Coach” by his appreciative students. He was an utterly devoted fan of Princeton basketball and football, and for decades held season tickets, rarely missing a game; he was also a die-hard fan of the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Browns, supporting these teams in victory and defeat in a way that fully manifested the original word “fanatic.”
Perhaps because his own experience taught him that life can change on a dime, he created a life for his family that was grounded, stable, and balanced – a rock-solid foundation from which all could grow and thrive. He married his 7th grade sweetheart, Virginia “Ginnie” Boylan (who survives him) in 1954, and together, through their enduring bond, they raised three children and generously supported their partners, Matthew Finnie and his wife Carol Guttman Finnie, Ellen Finnie and her partner Jaime Basswerner, and Janet Finnie and her husband Rob Whiteside. He was cherished and loved beyond measure as a husband, father, and grandfather, to Daniel and Hannah Finnie, to Nat Duranceau, and to Phoebe and Ellen Whiteside. He was a north star, a bright beacon for them all – a man of unshakeable principle, markedly frugal for himself but generous with others, a colorful character who was never hesitant to share his views, but whose clear values – and openness to all people – created an indelible impression and were a guiding light and inspiration to his family and for all those whose lives he touched. A man who had to be his own guide from a very young age, he was sought out for advice, though he was very clear that “I don’t give advice, I help people find out what they already know.”
Bruce never wavered in his understated but steadfast commitments: to family, to hard and “honest” work, to the institutions that shaped him, but also to the simple pleasures: his beloved sports, travel with Ginnie and special friends, birdwatching and berrypicking in the yard with his beloved grandchildren, a cigar, and time at the fireplace with the newspaper and crossword puzzle. Centered, balanced, clear, hard-working, unflappable – Bruce lived what he believed, without apology or uncertainty. His was a life fully and well lived, on his own terms, but always, always, with others in mind.
Family and friends may gather at The Mather-Hodge Funeral Home on Saturday, April 23, 2022 beginning at 9:30am. Words of Remembrance will be shared at 10:30am, followed by Burial of Ashes at Princeton Cemetery.
Those who wish to honor his life and legacy may want to consider a donation to Phillips Academy Andover’s Financial Aid Scholarships (andover.edu/givenow) to which Bruce was a faithful supporter for over 20 years.
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