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Publix Heiress Carol Jenkins Barnett, 65, dies five years after early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis

Publix heiress Carol Jenkins Barnett, 65, daughter of the grocery chain’s founder George W. Jenkins, died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease on Tuesday night.

Barnett, who was diagnosed with the illness five years ago aged just 59, died ‘late last evening in her home surrounded by her loving family,’ according to a Wednesday Publix statement.  

Although more than six million Americans suffer from the degenerative condition, only about 5 percent of them develop symptoms before age 65, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Barnett was the wealthiest resident of Polk County, Florida, and made Forbes magazine’s list of World Billionaires each year for the last decade with an estimated net worth of $8.8 billion in 2020. 

Her father, George W. Jenkins, opened the first Publix store in Winter Haven in 1930. Now, Publix Super Markets operates 1,300 stores in Florida, and is the largest employee-owned company in the country. The Jenkins’ family own 20 per cent of the business, with the remaining 80 per cent in the hands of the firm’s employees. 

Publix heiress Carol Jenkins Barnett, 65 (pictured), daughter of the grocery chain’s founder George W. Jenkins, died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease on Tuesday night

Publix Founder George Jenkins, pictured right, founded the first Publix location in 1930, and passed away in 1996

Publix Founder George Jenkins, pictured right, founded the first Publix location in 1930, and passed away in 1996

George W. Jenkins (pictured) opened the first Publix store in Winter Haven in 1930

George W. Jenkins (pictured) opened the first Publix store in Winter Haven in 1930

Carol Jenkins Barnett (left) is pictured with her father, Publix founder George Jenkins (bottom left), her brother Howard Jenkins (top right) and Lanier Upshaw at the Lakeland Yacht Club in 1995

Carol Jenkins Barnett (left) is pictured with her father, Publix founder George Jenkins (bottom left), her brother Howard Jenkins (top right) and Lanier Upshaw at the Lakeland Yacht Club in 1995

Barnett is survived by her two grown sons, Wesley Barnett and Nicholas Barnett. Both live in Polk County, and both have become prominent area philanthropists like their mother, according to USA Today. Barnett is also survived by three grandchildren, Raleigh, Birdie and Zoey. 

‘My mother had a passion for helping others, especially children,’ Wesley Barnett told the outlet. 

‘She felt privileged to be able to support many causes locally and beyond. Her father and mother instilled in her a sense of responsibility to her community and she has in turn taught that to my brother and me and our families by her shining example.’  

The Lakeland native started her career as a cashier at a Publix store in the Grove Parks Shopping Center, the company said. She moved up to the company’s corporate marketing research and development department in 1979. 

She was elected to the Publix board of directors in 1983, where she served until her 2016 Alzheimer’s diagnosis.  

 CEO Todd Jones said that the philanthropist had a ‘generous heart and compassionate soul’ in the news release: 

‘The Publix family is deeply saddened by the loss of a great humanitarian and community advocate,’ he said. 

'My mother had a passion for helping others, especially children,' Wesley Barnett, pictured second from left, told USA Today of his mother Carol Jenkins Barnett, pictured second from right with husband Barney Barnett

‘My mother had a passion for helping others, especially children,’ Wesley Barnett, pictured second from left, told USA Today of his mother Carol Jenkins Barnett, pictured second from right with husband Barney Barnett

Carol Jenkins Barnett's son, Nick Barnett, is pictured in a Publix store. Wesley Barnett, Carol's other son, said that his mother had a 'sense of responsibility to her community' that she 'in turn taught that to my brother and me and our families by her shining example'

Carol Jenkins Barnett’s son, Nick Barnett, is pictured in a Publix store. Wesley Barnett, Carol’s other son, said that his mother had a ‘sense of responsibility to her community’ that she ‘in turn taught that to my brother and me and our families by her shining example’

Publix Super Markets operates 1,300 stores in Florida, and is the largest employee-owned company in the country

Publix Super Markets operates 1,300 stores in Florida, and is the largest employee-owned company in the country

‘In addition to her service at Publix, Carol Jenkins Barnett made significant contributions to many nonprofit organizations and for the betterment of all children with investments in early childhood education programs.’ 

‘Her efforts will continue to improve the lives of others for generations.’

The grocery giant issued a two-page list of Barnett’s community service initiatives, among them the Junior League of Grater Lakeland, United Way of Central Florida, Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine and the Florida Partnership for School Readiness.

The Girl Scouts of West Central Florida, The Children’s Home Society, the Florida Arts Council and the Barbara Bush Foundation were among organizations that had given the philanthropist awards. 

In 1998, Florida Southern College awarded Barnett an honorary doctorate. She and her husband, Barney Barnett, donated many millions of dollars to their share alma mater. 

College President Anne Kerr said Barnett left an ‘indelible impact’ in a statement sent on Wednesday to the college community.

‘Her leadership and vision for education fostered a drive for learning and social betterment that has compelled countless FSC students and alumni to shape a better world for us all. Carol led the way as an exemplar of positive and transformative communal leadership.’

Pictured is the first stand-alone Publix Super Market in Winter Haven, photographed in 1940

Pictured is the first stand-alone Publix Super Market in Winter Haven, photographed in 1940

‘Carol’s legacy of intellectual understanding of the importance of education throughout life, advocacy for learning, helping others, and philanthropy lives on in the Florida Southern community and in each of us whom she touched. Carol manifested goodness and love throughout her life, transforming lives and organizations.’ 

In 2020, the college opened the Carol Jenkins Barnett Center for Early Childhood Learning and Health. Barnett attended a dedication ceremony for the building in 2018, but did not speak.  

Barnett was inducted into the Polk County Schools Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 2016. 

Barnett was inducted into the Polk County Schools Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Florida Women's Hall of Fame in 2016

Barnett was inducted into the Polk County Schools Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 2016

She also served on the the board of Publix Super Markets Charities, which supported the United Way of Central Florida. Barnett established her own charitable programs as well, including the Family Fundamentals parent resource facility in Lakeland and the Community Foundation of Greater Lakeland.

In 2016, the heiress made the largest-ever donation to Lakeland Regional Medical Center – three years later, the hospital opened its eight-floor Carol Jenkins Barnett wing. 

The hospital’s President and CEO, Danielle Drummond, said that Barnett’s ‘compassionate heart and generous spirit helped thousands in our area over the years.’   

‘Carol was a remarkable woman who cared deeply and gave generously to leave the world a better place. She will be greatly missed by those who knew her best and by those who have been touched by her vibrant and considerate ways,’ Drummond said in a Wednesday statement.  

Barney and Carol Barnett founded Barnett Family Park near Like Mirror, and contributed to the creation of Bonnet Springs Park, a 168-acre recreation site under construction along George Jenkins Boulevard.             

'Carol was a remarkable woman who cared deeply and gave generously to leave the world a better place. She will be greatly missed by those who knew her best and by those who have been touched by her vibrant and considerate ways,' said Lakeland Regional Medical Center CEO Drummond said in a Wednesday statement

‘Carol was a remarkable woman who cared deeply and gave generously to leave the world a better place. She will be greatly missed by those who knew her best and by those who have been touched by her vibrant and considerate ways,’ said Lakeland Regional Medical Center CEO Drummond said in a Wednesday statement

Retired executive director of Volunteers in Service to the Elderly Alice O’Reilly told USA Today that Barnett made a point of shopping at locally-owned businesses: ‘she loved Lakeland as much as I did and so we had a kinship that way,’ O’Reilly said.   

‘Her love and strength of Lakeland really reflects in so many ways all of the progress that we’ve made in our city over the years. What a strong influence that she had on so many.’

‘And I know everybody’s going to say this, but she learned from the best. She learned from her dad.’

Retired Lakeland City Manager Tony Delgado paid tribute to Barnett on Facebook: 'Absolutely heartbreaking news,' he wrote. 'Carol was so instrumental in moving Lakeland, community education and philanthrophy efforts forward. She will be greatly missed and all our hearts go out to the family'

Retired Lakeland City Manager Tony Delgado paid tribute to Barnett on Facebook: ‘Absolutely heartbreaking news,’ he wrote. ‘Carol was so instrumental in moving Lakeland, community education and philanthrophy efforts forward. She will be greatly missed and all our hearts go out to the family’

Retired Lakeland City Manager Tony Delgado paid tribute to Barnett on Facebook: 

‘Absolutely heartbreaking news,’ he wrote. ‘Carol was so instrumental in moving Lakeland, community education and philanthropy efforts forward. She will be greatly missed and all our hearts go out to the family.’   

Barney and Carol Barnett have donated generously to conservative politicians and the Republican Party for decades. In 2016, Barnett’s trust donated $800,000 to defeat a constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana in Florida – the measure failed that year, but passed two years later.   

Steve Scruggs, President of the Lakeland Economic Development Council, said that without Barnett and her family, Lakeland would be a ‘community that missed the opportunity to learn and benefit from one of the most generous human beings of our time.’ 


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