Legacy of Dr. Shirley Finn, R.N.

Missed the livestream or in-person event? View the video recording of the Dr. Shirley Finn Legacy Celebration event here!

Family, Personal Life, & Education

Born on November 5, 1932, Shirley Glynn Sharpe was raised in a segregated, disadvantaged neighborhood in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. She was a multifaceted person whose life was characterized by caring for others, persistence in achieving her goals, and a never-ending belief in equality for all.

Shirley married Edwin Finn in 1963, and the couple moved to Texarkana, AR, Edwin’s hometown. The couple quickly established their home, community affiliations, and careers in Texarkana making them an integral part of the community. The couple’s son, Edwin Michael (Mike) Finn, was born in 1967.

Education was of utmost importance to Shirley throughout her lifetime, and she often recalled a childhood memory of her mother, Martha Forbes, reading to her by a kerosene lamp on their single bed they slept in, determined that her daughter would break the cycle of poverty through higher education. She did not let her mother down. Shirley earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from St. Augustine’s College, Raleigh, N.C.; a Master of Science in Nursing from Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX; a Doctor of Education in Higher Education from NOVA Southeastern University, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.; and a Minority Leadership Fellows Certificate from Texas A&M University, College Station, TX.

Dr. Finn passed away on June 12, 2013, in Cedar Hill, TX.

Career Highlights

As a TC professor, director, and division chair of the Health Occupations Division, Dr. Shirley Finn, RN, paved the way for an improved world of nursing, nursing education, and growth of the TC nursing program. Dr. Finn lived and taught by example, never asking colleagues or students to put forth more effort than she was willing to herself.

Dr. Finn participated in classroom teaching, administered three departments, established continuing education for health occupations, wrote grants to secure funds for the tuition of TC faculty pursuing master’s degrees and the tuition for TC disadvantaged students, collaborated with the University of Texas-Arlington to start distance learning in Texarkana, and assisted Texas A&M University-Texarkana with the start of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and RN to BSN Completion Program.

When hospitals in east Texas asked TC to increase the number of RN graduates, Dr. Finn made it possible by writing grants to double the size of TC’s Health Occupations building, enabling admittance of 100 nursing students a year.

As a nurse educator, Dr. Finn participated in various professional organizations including:

  • American Nurses Association
  • Texas Nurses Association
  • National League for Nursing
  • Texas Junior College Teachers’ Association
  • District 28 Texas Nurses Association Board
  • Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Advisory Board
  • Sigma Theta Tau Honor Society

Civil Rights Activism & Trail Blazing

Shirley was a civil rights trailblazer from a very young age, and she continued to advocate for racial and gender equality throughout her lifetime.

As a young professional in the 1960’s, Shirley worked as an instructor at the African American Agricultural & Technical College in Greensboro, NC. During the landmark anti-segregation sit-ins in Greensboro, Shirley marched in support of black students who were jailed for participating in the demonstrations. In Texarkana, after not being served at a downtown restaurant, she and her husband, Edwin, sought to advance social justice and equity in local establishments. Their successful quest was confirmed in a letter from U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy assuring them that restaurants in Texarkana would no longer ban blacks.

Shirley achieved several “firsts” throughout her lifetime. While a practicing nurse, Shirley was hired as the first African American operating room nurse at the Evanston School of Nursing affiliated with Northwestern University in Illinois. In 1963, she became Texarkana’s first African American operating room nurse during her employment at Wadley Hospital.

In 1966, Shirley was hired as the first African American nursing instructor at TC. During her tenure, Shirley was promoted to director, and ultimately division chair, of the Health Occupations Division serving as the first African American and female administrator of TC until her retirement in 1995.

To honor her legacy, the Dr. Shirley Finn, RN, Endowed Scholarship Fund was established in her name as Texarkana College Foundation’s premiere nursing scholarship.

Leadership & Honors

Dr. Finn served as a volunteer leader on many community boards including the CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System Board of Directors, Opportunities, Inc. Board of Directors, Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council, Texarkana Community Foundation, Salvation Army, Chamber of Commerce- Leadership Texarkana, United Way Campaign Committee, Senior Citizens Center Board, and the YWCA Board.

Dr. Finn was also very devoted to her faith and was an active member of St. James Episcopal Church in Texarkana, where she served as the first African American member on the Vestry Board, taught Sunday school, and sponsored the church’s Episcopal Youth Community (EYC).

Dr. Finn was a loyal, lifetime member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., an international Greek-letter organization established by African American college-trained women. Locally, she was a member of the Kappa Xi Omega chapter, and she was honored by the national organization as a Pioneer Awardee.

In 2007, Dr. Finn received the prestigious C.E. Palmer Award from the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce celebrating her local, state, and national leadership contributions. In addition, the Texarkana Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) established the annual Trailblazer Award in Dr. Finn’s honor.

The Texas Nurses Foundation posthumously recognized Dr. Finn in 2018 as a Leader and Legend of Texas Nursing. The award commends Texas nurses who have left an indelible mark on their profession.

In 2021, the City of Texarkana proclaimed October 13 as Dr. Shirley Finn, RN, Day in Texarkana.

Media Coverage


October 13, 2021


On Wednesday, Texarkana College honored the memory and legacy of the late Dr. Shirley Finn, RN, former nursing faculty member, director, and division chair of TC’s Health Occupations Division, at a tribute ceremony held on campus and attended by close friends and Finn family members. As part of the ceremony, Texarkana, Texas, Mayor Bob Bruggeman proclaimed October 13, 2021, as Dr. Shirley Finn, RN, Day in Texarkana. TC President Dr. Jason Smith said the event was held to honor the many milestones accomplished by Dr. Finn throughout her lifetime including her activism in civil rights, her role as a leader within the community, and her advancement of the nursing profession.

“From a young age, Shirley was a visionary leader who advocated for the rights of women and minorities during a time when it was difficult to break through barriers,” said Smith. “She was the first African American nurse to work in Wadley Hospital’s operating room, and the first minority female hired as a faculty member at Texarkana College in 1966. During her tenure, Shirley excelled as an instructor by establishing high academic and professional expectations for students. In 1975, TC President Dr. Carl Nelson promoted Shirley to Director of the TC School of Nursing, and Chair of TC’s Health Occupations Division. This was the first time in the history of the college that a female, or a minority, served as a member of TC’s leadership team.”

Smith said TC’s nursing program flourished under her direction.

“During her tenure, TC’s Vocational Nursing and Associate Degree Nursing students earned high scores on licensure exams and were able to help fulfill our region’s workforce need for skilled nurses that led to the expansion of area hospitals and clinics,” said Smith. “Shirley wrote grants totaling more than $1 million for expansion of TC nursing programs and to assist faculty members with tuition for continuing education and advanced degrees. She was always advocating for the advancement of education, both for students and for faculty.”

The Texarkana community also benefitted from her legendary leadership and vision.

“Shirley and her husband, Edwin Finn, a Texarkana native, raised their son, Michael, in our community and were active members in their church, St. James Episcopal Church, and on several civic boards that provided support for underserved populations,” said Smith. “Another first for our community was Dr. Finn’s service as the first black female to serve on Christus St. Michael Health System’s Board of Directors, opening up doors of opportunity for minority nurses. Dr. Finn lived and worked by example, never asking anyone to put forth more effort than she was willing to herself.”

Other notable honors for Dr. Finn included local recognition by the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce which presented her with the prestigious Palmer Award and the annual Trailblazer Award established in her honor by the Texarkana chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). On the state and national level, the Texas Nurses Foundation posthumously recognized Dr. Finn as a Leader and Legend of Texas Nursing, and Dr. Finn’s national Greek-letter sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, named her as an AKA Pioneering Member.

Smith said the dedication of several legacy tributes in Dr. Shirley Finn’s memory were presented to the Finn family during the ceremony.

“We are pleased to dedicate the nursing skills lab located in the Patterson Health Sciences Building to the memory and legacy of Dr. Shirley Finn, RN, said Smith. “The lab serves as the primary learning environment where nursing students learn and practice life-saving skills. We felt like this lab represents the heart of our program, a fitting dedication to Dr. Finn’s legacy. In addition, we have installed a beautiful mural depicting her lifetime accomplishments located outside the entrance to the lab. We also are happy to announce the advancement of the endowed Dr. Shirley Finn, RN, memorial scholarship through the TC Foundation which will serve as TC’s most prestigious nursing scholarship for vocational or associate degree nursing students. An honor cord will be awarded to recipients of the scholarship upon graduation. A memorial tree was also planted on the west side of the Health Sciences building as a symbol of her service to the college and her legacy as TC’s 2002 Distinguished Faculty Honoree.”

For more information and to view the live stream of the event and the Dr. Shirley Finn, RN, online gallery, go to http://www.texarkanacollege.edu/dr-shirley-finn-legacy To make a donation to the Dr. Shirley Finn, RN, Memorial Scholarship fund, please contact TC Foundation’s Executive Director, Katie Andrus, or go to https://www.texarkanacollege.edu/foundation/