Finley was the daughter of Jessie Mathews and J. B. Crews of Lineville. She attended Lineville High School, then went on the University of Alabama for undergraduate studies and the Medical College of Alabama for her doctorate. She completed an internship at Lloyd Noland Hospital, followed by a pediatric research fellowship at the Medical College of Alabama and further training at the Institute for Medical Genetics at the University of Uppsala, Sweden.
In 1960, Finley returned to Birmingham and joined the faculty of the Medical College of Alabama. For the next 35 years, she and her husband, Wayne, oversaw the university's programs for medical genetics research and training. Their work involved isolating genetic markers of disease useful in diagnostic settings and prenatal screenings.
At the time of her retirement in 1996, Finley held the "Wayne H. and Sara Crews Finley Chair in Medical Genetics" at UAB. During her tenure, Finley published more than 150 peer-reviewed papers, abstracts and chapters. She was a founding fellow of the American College of Medical Genetics and the first female president of the Jefferson County Medical Society. She served on the UAB President's cabinet and the UAB School of Medicine's admissions committee. She also served as president of the University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association.
Finley was the first female member of the Rotary Club of Birmingham and was elected to the club's board of directors. She also served on the boards of Compass Bank, the United Way of Central Alabama and Girls Inc. She also taught Sunday School for 30 years at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church.
In 2001, UAB established the Finley-Compass Bank Genetics Conference Center, named in honor of Wayne and Sara Finley. She and her husband were both inducted into the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame in 2001. Finley died in 2013, survived by her husband and two children; Randall and Sara.
- Shephard, Bob (February 20, 2013) "Sara Finley, pioneering UAB geneticist, dies at 82." UAB News
- Oliver, Mike (February 20, 2013) "Pioneering UAB geneticist dies at 82." The Birmingham News