When former Gov. Joan Finney — the first female governor of Kansas — was campaigning for state office, there was always one person who was by her side.
"He was easily her best campaign staffer. He drove her everywhere around the state of Kansas," said Larry Tenopir, an attorney who knew the Finneys for many years through political events.
Her husband would just quietly wait in the background while Joan would be the center of attention in the many political events she held, Tenopir observed.
"He’s about as supportive as a spouse I have ever seen, and he did everything to support her and advance her ambitions in politics," he said.
Spencer W. Finney, the first first gentleman of Kansas, died Thursday in Topeka of natural causes. He was 89, said his daughter, Mary Holladay.
Born Jan. 20, 1931, in Chanute, Finney lived in Topeka for most of his life. He was a 1949 graduate of Topeka High School and attended Washburn University. Afterward, he worked for a railroad company.
Spencer and Joan Finney met each other through politics, their daughter said. Around 1952, Joan was serving then-Sen. Frank Carlson in Washington, D.C. She flew back to Topeka to open an office for Carlson and would meet with Spencer’s father — involved with the state GOP — to talk politics.
The two married in 1957 and stayed together for 44 years until Joan’s death.
During his stint as first gentleman, Spencer took his role with stride. He would host the many events a first lady would host at the governor’s mansion, such as Easter egg hunts and fishing events, Holladay said.
"I’ve heard various ladies’ organizations would go out for teas and chores and whatever and he just fit into that seamlessly," Tenopir said. "He was just his pleasant, normal, welcoming self, and they all accepted him and spent a lot of time with him."
He was a steady and stabilizing force for his wife as she ran statewide campaigns, Holladay said.
Both Holladay and Tenopir noted the pioneering role he took on as first gentleman in a day and age where women often took a secondary role.
"He played a supportive role and was happy to accompany her. It worked well, as she was in a time period where women were struggling to break through," Holladay said.
Along with Holladay, Finney is survived by children Sarah "Sally" Finney Timm and Richard Finney, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.