John R. "Jack" Finnegan Sr. (B.A., '48; M.A., '65), passed away on the early morning of Tuesday, October 2, 2012 after a long struggle with cancer. He was 87 years old.
Finnegan was nationally known as an advocate for open meetings and open-records laws and was considered a pioneer for the First Amendment. When he began his career, public officials were able to hide information, something that Finnegan believe hampered democracy. So in 1957, along with a colleague, Finnegan authored Minnesota's first open meetings law. He co-wrote and helped lobby for the passage of the 1974 Data Practices Act, which opened most records in Minnesota to the public. Because of his tireless work to open access, Minnesotans had access to more information than most other states. His work opened records and meetings for all citizens, something Finnegan thought was vital so voters could properly judge the work of their elected officials.
Born in Walker, Minn. in 1924, Finnegan spent his childhood working at the landmark Chase Hotel, which his family owned. In World War II, he worked in communications for the Army at the Battle of the Bulge.
When he returned from the war, married Norma Tomte and enrolled at the University of Minnesota. After graduating in 1948 from the School of Journalism & Mass Communication (SJMC), his first job was as a reporter at the Robbinsdale Post. He then worked as a reporter for the Rochester Post-Bulletin and was eventually hired by the Pioneer Press in 1951.
Finnegan began at the St. Paul paper as a night general assignment reporter. After ten years, and after completing his master's degree in mass communication at SJMC, he became the associate editor of the editorial page, then executive editor in 1967. After rising through the ranks, Finnegan became editor in 1970 -- a role he held until 1985. He served as assistant publisher until in retirement in 1988. When Finnegan became editor he set his sights on winning the paper's first Pulitzer Prize. By the time he retired, the paper has won two.
Upon his retirement, the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information created the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award, which is given to individuals and groups who demonstrate a commitment to the idea that democratic governments need the participation of an informed electorate. The award honors a Minnesotan or Minnesota institution whose work demonstrates leadership and commitment to the power of information to effect change. The award has honored some of the state's strongest advocates for public access to government information and the public right to know.
In 2001, Finnegan was inducted into the First Amendment Center's Hall of Fame and in 2011, Finnegan was inducted into the State Open Government Hall of Fame, an honor administered by the National Freedom of Information Coalition.
Finnegan was a longtime supporter of the University of Minnesota and was a member of the Chancellors Society.
Finnegan is preceded in death by his son Joseph. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Norma, as well as sons John Jr. and James; daughters Roberta Deeney, Mary Maruska and Cara Finnegan, as well as 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Photos courtesy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press