Terence T. Finn, NASA executive, dies at 71

July 29, 2014

Terence T. Finn, a retired NASA executive who boosted the space shuttle program and whose passion for military history fueled four books on the subject, died June 27 at a hospital in Chestertown, Md. He was 71.

The cause was complications from a blood disorder, said his wife, Joyce Purcell. He was a resident of Tolchester, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Terence Thomas Finn was born Aug. 1, 1942, in Manhattan and raised mostly in Glen Cove, on Long Island.

He spent his working life in the Washington area as a federal employee, first as a legislative assistant to Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, a Maryland Democrat. Dr. Finn worked on Capitol Hill from 1966 to 1977, in staff positions that included senior counsel for energy, science and space at the Senate Budget Committee.

He then went to NASA, where he worked from 1977 to 1994 and helped the agency receive the continued funding it needed to build the space shuttle. He also served as an original member of the agency’s Space Station Task Force and as director of policy and plans for NASA’s office of space flight. His final job at NASA was as a senior member in office of space exploration.

In the midst of that work, Dr. Finn made time for academic pursuits. He earned a doctorate in American government from Georgetown University in 1973, building on the education he received at Williams College in Massachusetts — where he earned his bachelor’s in 1964 — and at the University of Sussex in England, where he earned a master’s degree in political science.

While at NASA, he taught graduate students on the side at American, Catholic and George Washington universities about the inner workings of the nation’s capital, from budgets to lobbying to the way bills become law.

Later, while retired on the Eastern Shore, Dr. Finn taught a course in political science at Washington College in Chestertown and drew on his deep familiarity of military history for illustrated lecture courses through the college’s Academy of Lifelong Learning.

In retirement, Dr. Finn wrote four books. Two were war novels: “The Best of Times,” following an American P-47 pilot in England during World War II, and “To Begin Again,” about a professor recalled to the Air Force during the Korean War.

He also wrote two nonfiction accounts: “When Europe Went Mad,” about World War I, and “America at War: Concise Histories of U.S. Military Conflicts from Lexington to Afghanistan.”

Dr. Finn’s first wife, Leslie Kohn, died in 1993. He married Purcell in 1994.

Besides his wife, survivors include two sons from his first marriage, Kevin Finn of Poolesville, Md., and Timothy Finn of Somerville, Mass.; a stepson, Daniel Schneider of Chicago; and a brother.

— Baltimore Sun

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