ST. LOUIS — James A. Finley, an acclaimed photojournalist who served as a mentor to countless others during his 22 years as The Associated Press staff photographer in St. Louis, has died. He was 76.
Finley died Sunday of peripheral vascular disease at his home in St. Louis, according to his sister, Denise Porter.
Finely was a calming presence in the midst of the most chaotic times, from covering the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to presidential candidates on the stump, or tragedies like the Times Beach, Missouri, environmental disaster in the 1980s, the devastating flood of 1993, or the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
He was also known for his caring nature, such as walking across the street to give money to a homeless person or putting his arm around the victim of a tragedy.
“He was a gentleman and a gentle man whose grace and spontaneous willingness to be helpful benefited all who came in contact with him,” said Hal Buell, longtime director of photography for the AP. Buell said Finley “left a legacy of kindness to all those who knew him.”
Finley was born in 1940 in East St. Louis, Illinois. His love of photography began at an early age when he would sneak out with his uncle’s camera. He continued to take photos while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
After military service, Finley worked for newspapers in East St. Louis and began doing freelance work for the AP under longtime St. Louis staff photographer Fred Waters.
In the early 1980s, while covering a cargo plane crash near Interstate 70 in the dead of winter, Waters suddenly handed his film to Finley and said, “I’m done.” Finley was hired as his replacement in May 1984.
During his years as the staff photographer in St. Louis, Finley was often called upon to help in major stories elsewhere. He worked 10 Super Bowls, covered baseball playoffs and World Series.
Finley and St. Louis sports writer R.B. Fallstrom were honored for their work on the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run chase with the 1998 Fred Moen AP Staffer of the Year for Missouri and Kansas. Finley was elected into the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame in 2009.
Finley was also a key part of Diverse Visions, an annual AP program for student photojournalists of color. In fact, the first meeting of the annual gathering was near St. Louis, with Finley playing a key role in establishing the program. He also spent hours as a classroom volunteer at the high school in East St. Louis.
“James took quiet but intense pride in being a photographer for The Associated Press and in being a role model for aspiring photojournalists of all color,” said Paul Stevens, AP’s Kansas City chief of bureau during much of Finley’s tenure.