February 20, 2013

Sara Finley, pioneering geneticist, dies at 82

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Sara Will Crews Finley, M.D., professor emeritus at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, passed away on February 20, 2013. Finley, along with her husband, Wayne H. Finley, M.D., Ph.D., co-founded the first medical genetics program in the southeastern United States. She was co-director of the Laboratory of Medical Genetics at UAB for 30 years.

UABArchives-FinleySara01 2Finley held the Wayne H. and Sara Crews Finley Chair in Medical Genetics at the time of her retirement from UAB in 1996. The Finleys founded the first chromosome laboratory in the Southeast and began what was to become one of the country’s largest university prenatal genetics laboratories.

“Sara Finley was a true pioneer in medicine,” said Bruce Korf, M.D., Ph.D., chair of UAB’s Department of Genetics and current holder of the Finley Chair in Medical Genetics. “She and her husband, Wayne, were among the first physicians to recognize the importance of the new field of medical genetics, and they were among the first to implement new technologies for culturing cells and analyzing chromosomes. These technologies helped untold numbers of families by providing new approaches to the diagnosis and classification of birth defects and genetic disorders, as well as enabling genetic counseling for families.”

Born Feb. 26, 1930, Finley was the daughter of Jessie Mathews Crews and J.B. Crews of Lineville, Alabama. She graduated from Lineville High School, the University of Alabama and the Medical College of Alabama. Postgraduate training included an internship at Lloyd Noland Hospital, a three-year pediatric research fellowship at the Medical College of Alabama and a traineeship at the Institute for Medical Genetics at the University of Uppsala, Sweden.

In 1960, she joined the faculty of the Medical College of Alabama, now the UAB School of Medicine. The Finleys guided the medical genetics research, training and service program for 35 years, providing genetics services and developing specialized diagnostic laboratories for detectable genetic disorders. In 2001, UAB honored them by establishing the Finley-Compass Bank Genetics Conference Center located on the UAB campus.

Finley served for 20 years on the admissions committee of the UAB School of Medicine and authored or co-authored more than 150 papers, abstracts and book chapters in major professional publications.

She was a member of numerous professional organizations, including the American Society of Human Genetics, American Medical Association and the Medical Association of the State of Alabama. She was a founding fellow of the American College of Medical Genetics.

Finley was the first female president of the University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association and the Jefferson County Medical Society. She also served as a member of the University of Alabama President’s Cabinet for more than 10 years.

She was the first female member of the Rotary Club of Birmingham and a member of that organization’s board of directors. She was on the boards of Compass Bank of Birmingham, the United Way of Central Alabama and Girls Inc. She was a long-time member of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, where she taught Sunday School for more than 30 years.

She is survived by her husband of more than 60 years, Wayne H. Finley; a son, Dr. Randall W. Finley, his wife Amy and son Christopher of Birmingham; a daughter, Sara J. Finley of Nashville; a sister, Janice Crews Proctor and her husband Lister of Sylacauga; a nephew, John Bradley Proctor, his wife Anna, daughter Frances and son Crews of Sylacauga; a niece, Sara Elizabeth Proctor Isbell, her husband Ben and their daughters Emma and Sally of Birmingham; a brother-in-law, Robert Finley and his wife Myra of Montgomery; and many nieces, nephews and cousins.

“Sara Finley was devoted to patients and their families who were referred to her for genetic evaluation and counseling, and she enjoyed a rich professional environment of physicians, staff, students and trainees throughout her career as a faculty physician, teacher and counselor,” said Korf. “Her former trainees are now leaders in genetics programs around the country.”

Finley was honored as a UAB Distinguished Faculty Lecturer and received the Most Outstanding University of Alabama Alumnae Award, the Distinguished Alumna Award of the University of Alabama National Alumni Association and the Distinguished Alumna Award of the University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association.

She received the Martha Myers Role Model Award from the University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association, the Samuel Buford Word Award of the Medical Association of Alabama, the Gardner Award of the Alabama Academy of Science and the American Medical Women’s Association/National Library of Medicine Legends Award.

She was a member of the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame and Phi Beta Kappa. She received the National Outstanding Alumna Award of Zeta Tau Alpha women’s fraternity and the Birmingham Business Journal Lifetime Achievement Award, and she was named to the 1989 Top 10 Women in Birmingham.

Finley received the Brother Bryan Humanitarian Award of the Women’s Committee of 100 for Birmingham, as well as the Will Gaines Holmes Award from the Children’s Aid Society, and she was honored by the Southern Women’s Committee of 50.

The family requests no flowers and suggests instead that memorial contributions in Finley’s honor be made to the Finley Chair in Medical Genetics, UAB, 1530 3rd Ave. South, Birmingham, AL 35294; the Laura Crandall Brown Ovarian Cancer Foundation, P.O. Box 26791, Birmingham AL 35260; or the Dawson Memorial Baptist Church Scholarship Fund, 1114 Oxmoor Road, Birmingham, AL 35209.