Donna Finn: A Dorchester original

Donna Finn was a “fiery and feisty” fighter. With her long red hair and her energy for social justice causes, she was a memorable person. She had lived for many, many decades on Maryland Street in Savin Hill before her death last June after a long illness.

Donna was a leader in the early 1970’s Dorchester organization called The People First. It was made up of Dorchester teens and young adults like her. TPF included Seamus, Mary, and Pat Glynn, Dusty Maguire, Buddy Dyer, Ann Marie and Jimmy Adduci, Janet Connors, Sandy McCleary, Kevin Cummins alongside some more radical college graduates who moved to Dorchester to start this group like Michael Ansara, Ira Arlook, Amy Merrill Ansara, Neil Robertson, Ann-Marie Wilayto, and then Christine Maguire.

The experience these people had in this group was life changing for many of them. Most have spent their time since then working on issues of social justice and increasing opportunity.

Donna opposed the Vietnam War as a working-class resident of a neighborhood that sent thousands to fight and saw too many come home dead or scarred from that experience. Please go pay your respects some time to those from Dorchester who died and are remembered at the Vietnam Veterans memorial located on Morrissey Boulevard just before the entrance to UMass Boston.

It was not popular in Dorchester in the early 1970s to oppose the war, but Donna did after studying the history of the war and seeing its impact on friends and neighbors. And she connected to family-age Dorchester community leaders like Jim Canny and Peg Moran who also spoke out against the war.

The People First also took on Judge Troy, a corrupt Dorchester District Court judge, campaigning to get him removed from the bench. They were successful;Troy was removed from office in 1973 after these findings by the Supreme Judicial Court that Troy:

• Had lied under oath in pretrial proceedings in a case involving an insurance company;

• Neglected his judicial duties;

• Illegally directed the filling of a creek at Tenean Beach in Dorchester, using a court officer during court hours to drive a bulldozer at the creek;

• Solicited a contribution to a political candidate from a lawyer practicing in his court;

• Ruled favorably in two cases involving persons whose attorneys had worked privately for Mr. Troy and had not been paid.

In addition to what the DSJC found, TPF people remember the harsh bails and sentences Troy handed down to young people and poor people.

Donna Finn went on to found and coordinate Families and Friends of Prisoners for many years. The group supported prisoners, their families, and ex-prisoners and publicly challenged many prison practices. This was not easy or always popular work to do,but she did it fearlessly.

For 26 years, Donna was a key figure in organizing annual gatherings for Dorchester Women’s Day through the Dorchester Women’s Committee. Fran Froelich, from the Poor People’s United Fund, remembers the committee banner that read: “Who’s that loud-mouthed woman from Dorchester? She’s all of us!”

Donna reminded people that the feminist movement in the US was not fueled by just middle class women. Many of us thought of Donna as at times being that loud-mouthed Dorchester woman; but we need such women. Many of us also experienced her softer side as the mother of Kimberly and a friend to many.

Donna did not have an easy life. She raised Kimberly as a single parent. She loved her grandson Kevin.

She cared for her aging mother. She had hardship in some of her relationships and she had illnesses. But she was a good friend and a tireless organizer who had an impact on many people for the better. She’s remembered with respect and affection and much missed.

Lew Finfer is a Dorchester resident and Director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network.