It’s with a heavy heart to say that Jean Finlayson, a senior LSA volunteer, has passed away. Jean volunteered for over five years in our homework help and the K-3 Enrichment Program. She was an amazing mentor to our children, and a critical part of the LSA family. Below is a tribute to Jean written by her longtime friend, Ron Claiborne.
Thank you for your many years of service, Jean. We will miss you greatly.
– Your family at LSA
Jean Finlayson, my dear friend, died July 13.
First, I want to apologize to Jean. I am absolutely certain she would hate it if she knew I or anyone was writing a tribute to her. It was precisely this kind of attention to herself that she disliked. That was quintessentially the Jean who I knew for over 30 years. Although she was by no means reserved and certainly not quiet, she was uncomfortable in the spotlight. So, sorry, Jean, but I have to do this. And I want to do this because more people should know about you, and have at least some idea what your life meant — to which Jean might have said with that mocking smile she had: “‘Meant’? What is meant supposed to mean?” I’ll tell you.
Jean was kind, decent, humble, smart, funny, curious and courageous. She was unfailingly cheerful and positive, but could be sarcastic too and even a bit of a smart aleck. She could zing you with a quip — but never nastily. And she felt strongly but quietly about helping people. She is how I became an LSA homework help volunteer. One day, a few years ago, I ran into her on the street and asked where she was going. She told me about homework help and I eventually joined too as a volunteer. I would come Thursdays when I could. Jean came both days — Tuesday and Thursday with rare exceptions. To her, it wasn’t just volunteering. It was a commitment. For Jean, if she was in, she was all the way in.
Jean loved children. I sometimes watched them at LSA when she was with them. They gravitated to her, I think drawn by her warmth and goofy humor and gentleness. Kids know. They also liked that she would bring stickers which she bought herself and would distribute after homework help. And so that is how I choose to see her now: seated at the round table, the children mobbed around her to get stickers. She patiently handed them out, with words for each eager recipient. This is what she chose to do in her retirement, even as she must have known she was living on borrowed time. Her health had been precarious for many years — though she rarely spoke of it — and she probably knew her time was limited. Helping children was one of the ways she wanted to use that time.
When her sister told me Jean had died, I was shaken, sad but something more unsettling. I felt dispirited. I felt like the world has been robbed of a special person. I missed her immediately and deeply. All day I played images of her in my mind. 33 years ago, chatting in her office at ABC. Her telling me one day how she left her air conditioner on all day when she wasn’t there, so her cat would be comfortable. Running with her to catch the 116th Street crosstown bus. I remembered her stories about her travels around the world, about her family, an article she read, or something happening in the news — especially things that outraged her. I recalled again and again the fervor of her absolute belief in what’s right and what’s wrong. Lying, cheating, stealing, dishonesty, rudeness, arrogance, hypocrisy, racism, hatred were wrong. Jean’s moral code had no tolerance for transgressors.
And I thought a lot about her smile — open, genuine, inviting. I especially liked the bashful one she would flash then duck her head, look away and then look up again to make sure you were sharing the fun she was having. Yes, Jean, we were.