Redmond C.S. Finney, a retired Gilman School headmaster who achieved All-America status in two sports, died of heart failure Wednesday at Mount Desert Hospital in Maine. The Upperco resident was 89.
Born in Baltimore and known as Reddy, he was the son of Dr. George Finney, a general surgeon, and his wife, Josephine Stewart. He was a 1947 graduate of Gilman, where he was awarded the Fisher Medallion, the highest student honor. He played football and lacrosse and wrestled and was a member of the newspaper and yearbook staffs. He also debated.
Mr. Finney earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, and in his senior year he was captain of the wrestling team and was named an All-American in football and lacrosse. He received a master’s degree from Harvard University and served in the Navy during the Korean War.
He joined the Gilman faculty in 1954 to teach history, mathematics and religion and to coach football, wrestling and lacrosse.
“He encouraged us to look inside at what we really wanted to do and go for it,” said Mark Fetting, chairman of the school’s board and a former student. "There was a soulfulness about him. The truth was very important to him."
Mr. Finney was a co-founder of Gilman Upward Bound, a federally funded educational program for children from impoverished backgrounds. He also started a coordination program with Bryn Mawr School and Roland Park Country School and served as inspiration for the Finney Athletic Center.
A 1992 Sun article credited Mr. Finney as taking the “once-stuffy private institution in North Baltimore” and “drag[ging] it into modern times.”
“He leaves behind an institution rich in ethnic diversity, dollars and decorum,” said the 1992 article. “Gilman graduated its first four black students in 1968, Mr. Finney’s first year as headmaster. The school’s minority enrollment now stands at 30 percent, out of a total enrollment of 945.”
Said former Baltimore City State’s Attorney Stuart O. Simms: “He welcomed me to the school and for football in the fall of 1965. He was the varsity coach and remained my coach all those years and became headmaster the year I graduated. He was unusual man. He espoused character. He made you want to see the best in everyone, and he was welcoming to all.”
Mr. Simms, who is now an attorney in private practice, also said, “He was especially welcoming to my parents. He was a straight-ahead person. He was emblematic of a core group of folks particularly in independent schools who were broad in their thinking about diversity.
“For Mr. Finney, it wasn’t all about being a player or a student, it was about being leader, too.”
Sherman Bristow, a former student and later a Gilman coach and teacher, said: “He was giant of a man, a person of integrity and taught everyone what that word meant. He brought white middle-class and African American students and diversified Gilman School in every way — racially, socioeconomically and religiously in a time when those issues were on the front burner in American society. He wanted Gilman to be a part of the city of Baltimore.”
Mr. Finney retired in 1992 after spending 49 years at the school as student, teacher and administrator.
The 1992 Sun article said the school’s endowment fund grew from $1 million to $24 million during Mr. Finney’s tenure.
“Gilman’s new $5 million athletic center bears Mr. Finney’s name. A nice gesture, but the building is made of brick and cement and thus stands as a cold and impersonal reminder of an extraordinarily warm and compassionate man,” the article said. “He makes it a point — no, a rule — to know the first and last names of all 412 boys in the Upper School, and some of those in the Lower School as well.”
While the school remained all male, Mr. Finney worked to have classes with female students from nearby private schools.
"Boys need to see girls in something other than a party setting, " he said. “They need to know girls have brains, too.”
While headmaster, Mr. Finney taught freshman religion. He said he wanted to keep in contact with students.
"You’ve got to keep your ear to the ground, " he said.
In the article, he discussed his personal standards. "What do I expect here? Honorable behavior and a trusting climate," he said. “If somebody violates that trust, you have to use it as a teaching moment without overly castigating the violator.”
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David Irwin, a former student and football player, said: “He cared about his students with incredible sincerity and love. His influence is shown in the achievements of the kids he inspired. He was a positive, uplifting influence.”
John E. Schmick, a former Gilman headmaster and one of Mr. Finney’s past students, said: "He was a great mentor to me. Every decision Redmond Finney made, he made out of character and of what was best for the boys. He had a great vision. He was one of key administrators who diversified the school and made it a stronger institution.
“When I was made headmaster and was faced with a difficult decision, I asked myself, ‘What would Reddy do?’ ”
After he retired from Gilman, Mr. Finney resided at his son’s Upperco farm, where bred thoroughbreds and worked in his garden. He also served on the Board of School Commissioners for Baltimore City in the 1990s.
Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Jean Brown, past Union Memorial Hospital board president, who worked closely with her husband; two daughters, Jeannie Emala and Beth Finney, both of Baltimore; two sons, Dr. Stewart Finney of Baltimore and Ned Finney of Upperco; and nine grandchildren.