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A life lived for family

by Sarah Bello,

Haley Finney JD'16

Passionate about justice, it made perfect sense for Haley Finney JD’16 to go to law school, says her mom, Kimber Finney.

“She was always making sure that everything was fair for everyone,” Kimber says. “She cared more about other people than she did for herself.”

That statement rang true after Finney passed away July 13, 2023, following a second battle with ovarian cancer. She had given birth to her second child at 32 weeks in November 2022, waiting on cancer treatment until he was born. She gave life to her son, then endured months of chemotherapy as she lived for both of her kids.

Going to law school

Haley’s path to law school wasn’t always obvious. She had been a dancer since she was three years old and spent time competing in the Miss Oregon pageant to earn scholarship money.

The first in her family to attend college, she planned to enter the University of Oregon as a dance major. But she wasn’t sure she actually wanted to go.

“The social part of high school was difficult for her,” her mom says. “A couple of weeks before she was supposed to leave, she said she didn’t want to go. ‘This is your dream,’ she said to me. I told her she would go live my dream until she found her own.

“Just about two weeks later, she said, ‘Mama, I love my life. Thank you so much.’ She couldn’t imagine not going to college and had such a wonderful experience.”

While there, she found the family and human service degree and made the switch to that program. A year after her graduation, she decided to study family law at Willamette.

“She was an excellent law student,” Kimber says. “She was 100% dedicated to it and studied constantly. She was always meeting with people and teachers and study groups to make sure she was doing well.”

Haley stressed over the bar exam but passed it on her first try and began practicing.

Haley’s family

Toward the end of 2020, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The day after her daughter’s first birthday in 2021, she had a staging surgery, then another surgery a month later to remove the cancer. She was told it was gone.

Doctors did occasional follow-ups, but they didn’t have any concerns, Kimber says. They did say her chances of getting pregnant again were slim-to-none. But she did get pregnant again in 2022, and just a couple of months in, Haley knew something was wrong. Visits to two separate doctors resulted in no diagnoses and a dismissal of her concerns, which was frustrating, her mom remembers.

“The message she wanted to leave for other women is to listen to their bodies,” Kimber recalls. “If you’re not comfortable with what a doctor tells you, go to another one and another one until you’re comfortable with what they’re telling you.”

In September, Haley’s suspicions were confirmed — the cancer had returned. Things went downhill quickly because a tumor was growing at a faster rate than the baby. Haley wanted to keep him growing as long as she could, and she became progressively more miserable, unable to eat or sleep.

She went to OHSU for a routine appointment on November 14 and unexpectedly ended up in the hospital, delivering her son by C-section a week later. She welcomed him while conscious for the procedure, then underwent another surgery directly afterward for the doctors to remove what they could of the cancer. By then, it had grown extensively, so they took what they could and decided on a plan for chemotherapy.

Despite being early, the baby was amazing and healthy, Kimber says. Haley began chemo in December, receiving medication every three weeks for seven months. For her kids, she held on as long as she could, losing her battle in July of 2023.

“We were best friends,” her mom says. “She was all about family.”

Haley’s legacy

Both alumni and faculty are hoping to continue the legacy that Haley leaves behind. Willamette Law Dean Brian Gallini shares “Haley’s commitment to her family and to her legal education remains an inspiration to us all. Her story will not soon be forgotten and many future law students will be able to learn from her dedication.”


About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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