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Joe McQuaid's Publisher's Notebook: The late Jim Finnegan: a master of his craft


March 17. 2013 5:32PM

Before Jim Finnegan died a week ago, he had spent some time at a Bedford nursing/rehabilitation facility and I was privileged to spend a little time with him.

Jim was in the early stages of Alzheimer's but you would have to listen carefully to notice. In fact, I liked to listen carefully to Jim and didn't mind a bit hearing him repeat a favorite story. I wish very much I could hear him tell it again.

Bob Hilliard, who was a sports editor here and who shared a love of opera with Jim, also had the disease before he died a few years ago.

I don't know much about Alzheimer's but I know I don't like it a bit. In some ways, it is said to resemble the senility or hardening of the arteries that my generation's grandparents would have had. I am reminded of Finnegan's boss, the late William Loeb, who delighted in saying that some people his age, while not suffering from the artery problem, suffered instead from "hardening of the categories." That is, they had their minds made up about something long ago and they weren't about to change, even in the light of new facts.

Jim Finnegan wasn't like that. He loved facts, the more the better. And he knew a lot of them and employed them regularly in editorials that were sometimes long but never boring. Like Loeb, he took issues and his beliefs seriously but not himself. And he loved the give-and-take of political discourse and debate.

He had the ability to pull back the curtain on some political charlatans and their allies in what he and my dad used to call the "pipsqueak press" in New Hampshire. Jim would have made a great political manager himself, but he knew the value of the editorial page and only after his retirement did he commit himself to a couple of serious campaign roles.

One thing he didn't do in retirement, although I invited him more than once, was to write an occasional piece for the paper if the spirit moved him. I think I know why he didn't do it. He had poured much of his adult life into the daily job of running our opinion pages, and he knew he would miss it but would miss it less if he made a clean break of it.

I wish, though, that he had done more writing about his life and times, including his own early days.

His Uncle Joe was, as Jim told it, the best piano tuner in Philadelphia and, perhaps, the world. He was also blind but had no trouble using the subway system to get around to his appointments in wealthy matrons' homes. He would take little Jim along with him and decades later, Jim would still get excited in telling how his sightless uncle's sensitive ear could super-fine tune even the balkiest of pianos.

Jim worked a keyboard in similar fashion. Reading his work, you could almost hear the music of the craftsman.

Write to Joe McQuaid at or via Twitter at?@deucecrew.

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