In 1974 Finlay was elected to the Columbia City Council, and in 1978 he was elected mayor, serving until 1986. During his service to the city, Finlay developed civic projects that greatly enhanced the appearance and quality of life in Columbia.
Lawyer, mayor of Columbia. Finlay was born in Columbia on August 16, 1936, the son of Kirkman Finlay and Catherine McCarrel. He attended public schools in Columbia and graduated from the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1958, and from Harvard Law School in 1961. After graduation from Harvard, Finlay returned to Columbia to practice law as an associate with the firm of Boyd, Bruton & Lumpkin, ultimately becoming a partner in the firm now known as Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, P.A. As a lawyer, he specialized in public utilities regulation and corporation law, while maintaining a general practice. On September 10, 1966, he married Mary Fleming Willis. They had two children.
In 1974 Finlay was elected to the Columbia City Council, and in 1978 he was elected mayor, serving until 1986. During his service to the city, Finlay developed civic projects that greatly enhanced the appearance and quality of life in Columbia. His efforts produced the renovation of the fourteen-hundred block of Main Street, with the addition of a multistory office building (the Palmetto Center), a large new hotel, and a parking garage. He convinced officials with Southern Bell and the State Highway Department to abandon plans to build new headquarters in the suburbs and instead to build in downtown Columbia. Under Finlay’s tenure, railroads operating in Columbia relocated or eliminated many tracks in order to reduce the number of crossings and facilitate traffic flow. Working with the University of South Carolina (USC) and Richland County, Finlay oversaw the establishment of the Koger Center for the Performing Arts and the transformation of Wheeler Hill, a disadvantaged area near USC, into a desirable residential community. He sponsored a change in the way the Columbia City Council was elected, creating single-member districts that brought to the council its first black members. To revitalize decaying areas of the city, Finlay envisioned a renovation of downtown Columbia and the transformation of Sidney Park from an industrial complex of warehouses and railroad spur tracks into a park surrounded by residential housing. He foresaw and initiated the first steps in the development of the Congaree Vista, another depressed area between Assembly Street and the Congaree River. Finlay was also instrumental in placing the State Museum in the Vista and advocated the removal of the Central Corrections Institution from downtown Columbia.
Finlay served on the vestry and as senior warden of Trinity Episcopal Church and saw its elevation to cathedral status. He also served as vice chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina and as a trustee of the University of the South. In 1985 he received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award for his work in the Congaree Vista, for his efforts in the revitalization of Columbia, and for his role in the creation of the Richland-Lexington Cultural Council. In 1989 he was appointed chairman of the Columbia Development Corporation to oversee the further development of the Congaree Vista. Finlay died in Columbia on June 27, 1993. In April 1994 Sidney Park was renamed Finlay Park in his honor.
Hinshaw, Dawn. “Former Mayor Kirkman Finlay Dies.” Columbia State, June 28, 1993, pp. A1, A5.
Moore, John Hammond. Columbia and Richland County: A South Carolina Community, 1740–1990. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.