Gay Finlayson ('76)
Advocate for individuals with autism
Gay Finlayson ('76) is described as a woman with gumption. It's an apt description for the health educator and family specialist for the Center for Development and Disability at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. For more than 20 years Gay has applied her special brand of gumption as an advocate for individuals and families affected by autism — years before autism became a well-publicized disorder. Gay's passion was kindled when two of her own three children — a daughter and son — were diagnosed with autism. Like any good mom, she went into action, determined to provide her children with the best chance at life she could find for them. But Gay Finlayson didn't stop there. The 1976 philosophy graduate who loved literature became a fierce and effective advocate for the special needs of autistic individuals, a friend to their families and a voice for their community. Over the next two decades, she worked tirelessly with legislators crafting legislation to help improve the lives of autistic individuals and their families. She has lobbied state legislatures, pleaded for funding, spoken to conferences all over the country and shepherded bills through legislative gauntlets. In 2004 Gay joined the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Service's Autism Spectrum Disorders Working Group to design a blueprint for a national public and private plan to expand and improve ASD services. For over two decades, Gay has befriended thousands of families impacted by autism — and she has changed their lives.
Gay's philosophy is summed up by a paraphrase of dance pioneer Martha Graham: "There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium. It will be lost. The world will not have it."