John Finney, advocate for the ‘working poor’ dies at 81

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV)- John Finney, longtime director for the Savannah-Chatham County Economic Opportunity Authority (EOA) passed away on Tuesday.

The Savannah native graduated from Beach High School then went onto get his Bachelors in Sociology at Savannah State University.

He started working at the EOA in 1967 then just five years later he was promoted to director. Coworkers say Finney was old school, but was always thinking outside the box.

Finney never shied away from a challenge. Coworkers say he provided perspective on poverty, when the community needed it most.

“We’re also talking about a category of people who are called the working poor, people who work everyday, they just don’t make enough money to make it,” Finney told WSAV in 2014

Finney’ didn’t want people to just survive, he wanted them to live their best lives. He pioneered a medical clinic for sickle cell patients at Memorial Medical Center. He also oversaw the development of the Curtis V. Cooper Primary Healthcare.

Finney even created some of the first permanent housing options for Savannah’s homeless.

Terry Tolbert, a longtime friend of Finney’s and interim director of EOA says Savannah is forever changed by the community advocate.

He met Finney at 16 and says he admired him for his work ethic and imaginative mind.

“John has been a first for so many things and what he did was left us with the courage to try new things in spite of obstacles,” said Tolbert. “We’re always going to miss him and I’m sure his family is going to miss him tremendously.”

Finney’s forward thinking gave Chatham County the first ever Martin Luther King celebration. His contributions would later inspire the creation of the Martin Luther King Day Observance Association.

He worked with both young and old members of the community, creating high school drop out programs to better than lives of many.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson says he unified the city and paved the way for younger generations.

“Before I talked about having people at the table, John Finney had people at the table,” said Johnson, “his family’s loss is also Savannah’s loss and it’s also our regions loss, we’ve lost a great man.”

People who knew him say his empathy for low income families was unmatched and he spent most of his adult life trying to make their lives better.

“He leaves a strong legacy for poor people in our community,” said Tolbert.

Finney retired as director of the EOA in 2017. Funeral arrangements are not complete at this time.

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