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Professor emeritus remembered for his teaching, scholarship and kindness

W. Bruce Finnie, 86, of Newark, professor emeritus of English at the University of Delaware, who was known for his excellence in teaching and for his widely used textbook on the English language, died Feb. 18, 2021.

He held joint faculty appointments in the English and linguistics departments during his career at UD, from 1965 until 2000. He introduced and taught a variety of courses in medieval literature and linguistics, won honors for his teaching and is recognized on the University’s Mentors’ Circle.

Dr. Finnie served as director of graduate studies in the Department of English for six years and for a time as acting graduate director in the linguistics department. He directed several doctoral dissertations and taught many Delaware English teachers.

He was the author of several books, including Words on Words: A Language Reader and The Stages of English: Texts, Transcriptions, Exercises, and numerous scholarly articles. He was a member of the Modern Language Association of America, the Mediaeval Academy of America, the American Dialect Society and the American Name Society and served as a peer review reader for “The Chaucer Review” and an editorial board member of “Names: The Journal of the American Name Society.” In 1972-73, he was a visiting professor at the Universitat Gesamthochschule in Essen, Germany.

When he retired in August 2000, he was granted emeritus status in recognition of his many years of distinguished service, teaching and research at UD.

Friends remembered Dr. Finnie as an outstanding teacher, generous colleague and a kind and caring individual, who especially enjoyed spending time with his family.

Jerry Beasley, professor emeritus of English, recalled arriving at UD in 1969 as a new instructor in the department. Dr. Finnie, he said, immediately became “a willing and able mentor and friend” who was already considered “one of the brighter young lights” and a rising star on the faculty.

“From the very beginning he was an inspired teacher, the winner of numerous awards for excellence in the classroom, and eventually he took on the daunting responsibility of serving as director of graduate studies at a time when the English Graduate Program was in a significant growth phase. In other words, his achievements were many, in the department and beyond,” Beasley said.

“But now is a time for honoring Bruce as a man, as a colleague and friend of great kindness and generosity. He touched many lives throughout his long life and career, mine included. His absence will be keenly felt not only by his family, but by his many friends, old and new.”

Robert Bethke, who retired from the Department of English in 1990, said he and Dr. Finnie were colleagues and good friends who often shared similar viewpoints at faculty meetings. “I enjoyed teaching students who overlapped and referenced ‘Dr. Finnie’ with caring regard in their talk and work,” Bethke said.

Another longtime colleague, Prof. Emerita of English Fleda Brown, said, “Bruce was an unfailing friend—unfailingly kind, unfailingly generous and thoughtful. I will not forget his warm eyes.”

Louis Arena, professor emeritus of linguistics, recalled being hired as the second linguist at UD, joining Dr. Finnie on the faculty in 1967. With Dr. Finnie's specialty of historical linguistics, Arena, an applied linguist, said they were "perfectly complementary" and that Dr. Finnie served as "a genuine model of how linguistics should be taught."

"As a teacher, he often said that he could not teach anything, he could only motivate students to learn," Arena said. "And that, he did. Bruce motivated his students to learn--about almost anything in his vast background of knowledge and experiences."

Both inside and outside of the classroom, Dr. Finnie was a generous person who loved his family, cared deeply for others and always spoke kindly to students, Arena said.

"Bruce was the consummate definition of a genuine gentleman," he said. "When students would ask me about interesting Linguistics courses to take, I would always respond, 'Put a little class in your life. Take a course with Dr. Bruce Finnie.'"

About Dr. Finnie

Warner Bruce Finnie was born near Batesville, Mississippi, and earned his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Akron in Ohio. He received his master’s degree, magna cum laude, from Columbia University and his doctorate from Ohio State University.

A retired captain in the Air Force Reserves, he earned his wings as a navigator in 1956 and flew as a weapons controller during the Cold War out of Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts.

In Delaware, he was a board member of Limen House, a halfway house in Wilmington for people in recovery, and a longtime member of St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church in Newark, where he served on the vestry, headed various ministries, was active on the liturgy guild and was one of several worship leaders who officiated at Evening Prayer for almost 40 years.

He is survived by his former wife of 23 years, Nancy Evans Finnie of Newark; his children, David of Fairborn, Ohio, Allison Archangelo of Newark and Bruce Jr. (Laura) of Pittsburgh; nine grandchildren, Michael, Megan (Lance), Heather, Rebecca, Hannah, Ryan Bruce, Ashlie, Tara (Willy) and Brett; three great-grandchildren, Mara, Penelope and Oliver; and his foster son, Steven Erli of Magnolia, Delaware.

Visitation and services

A visitation to celebrate Dr. Finnie’s life will be held from noon until 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27, at St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church, 276 South College Avenue, Newark, followed by a requiem Eucharist at 1 p.m. Face masks will be required for all in attendance. Interment will be in St. Thomas’s Cemetery, 58 West Delaware Avenue, Newark.

To sign up to attend the service in person, please click here. Anyone who is unable to attend can livestream the service by clicking here or by visiting the St. Thomas’s  Episcopal Church YouTube channel here.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Dr. Finnie’s name to St. Thomas’s Parish or to Limen House, both in care of Spicer-Mullikin Funeral Homes and Crematory, 121 West Park Place, Newark, DE 19711.

To read the full obituary or to leave online condolences, visit the Spicer-Mullikin website.

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  • Department of English
  • 203 Memorial Hall
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • University of Delaware
  • Phone: 302-831-2361