Gail Finney and Ford Carr sitting in Finney's office
Long-serving Rep. Gail Finney posed with Ford Carr, the Democratic nominee to fill her seat for Wichita’s District 84. (Provided by the Finney family)

Gail Finney, the longtime Kansas state representative of Wichita’s District 84, died on Aug. 20. She was 63 years old.

Finney had recently undergone a kidney transplant in her fight against lupus, an autoimmune disease. Her husband, Jerrold Finney Sr., said her body rejected the new kidney.

A native of Wichita, Gail Finney graduated high school at 16 and went to Wichita State University for her undergraduate degree. She later went to Friends University for her MBA. 

She would never stray far from serving her community, getting involved with the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, Black Expo and the minority business council. 

“When she built her home, she could have built it anywhere that she wanted to,” Jerrold Finney said. “But she built it in 67214 because of her love for the people in this area.”

In 2009, Gail Finney ran as a Democrat and was elected as a state representative for the community she loved so dearly. She was heavily entrenched in community issues and fought big corporations looking to make a dollar out of her constituents. She once criticized the “big ass poles” — 105-foot metal utility poles — that Evergy had placed alongside homes in her district. 

“[Finney] was a North Star,” Danielle Johnson, vice chair of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, said. “She was so proximate to the community, a tangible leader, someone that you know is going to champion causes brought by the community. She led with a level of respect and grace that you don’t oftentimes see.”

Finney was always a call away from her constituents and a mentor to those who sought her guidance. She was known to give it to you straight and honest.

“If you had any kind of a relationship with her, you felt that she was only focused on you,” her husband said. “All of the other things that she needed to accomplish didn’t matter. Whatever your issue was, was the only thing that mattered.”

Despite health issues causing her to be absent at times in the past legislative session, she still made an effort to reach out to young legislators.

“We were on the floor and we were getting ready to leave for the day,” said Rep. Heather Meyer, an Overland Park Democrat, of a moment from this year’s legislative session. “She gave me a big hug and she congratulated me for making it out there and said, ‘See, you made it. Keep fighting,’ and it was just really sweet. Gave each other a big hug, and just kind of went on our way, thinking that we would see each other again.”

Finney had already announced that she would not be running for office again in 2022 after serving for six terms, and newcomer Ford Carr would run in her place. Carr faced no challengers in the primary elections this month and there are no Republicans running against him in November’s general election.

To her family, especially her seven grandchildren, Finney was known as “GG,” short for grandma Gail, as she never wanted to be called grandma. She spent her birthday, Aug. 16, with her family, feasting on crab legs that her son cooked — her favorite meal.

Finney is survived by her husband; sons Jerrold Finney Jr., Jason Finney Sr. and Shaun Finney; and grandchildren Jayden, Sharrell, Jason Jr., DeMarcus, Jarelle, Jacoby and Kayson. 
There will be a celebration of life service on Friday, Sept. 2, at 11 a.m. at St. Mark United Methodist Church, 1525 N. Lorraine in Wichita.

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Marco Schaden is a New York-based freelancer. He is a Columbia Journalism School graduate and previously worked as an intern at The Wichita Beacon covering the state's sports betting law.