POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Carol Jenkins Barnett, the daughter of the founder of Publix, a longtime board member and philanthropist, died at the age of 65 this week.
“With a heavy heart, we share the news of the passing of Carol Jenkins Barnett,” the company said in a statement. “It is a difficult day for her family, our Publix family and the community.”
According to the statement, she died late Tuesday evening in her home, surrounded by family.
“My mother had a passion for helping others, especially children. She felt privileged to be able to support many causes locally and beyond,” her son Wesley Barnett wrote in a statement to News Channel 8. “She was the anchor of our family. A mother, a grandmother. Her infectious smile, inimitable personality, and abounding love will never be forgotten.”
Her daughter-in-law, Ashley Gibson Barnett, mourned her on Facebook, calling her one of the most remarkable women she knew.
“Her kindness, tenacity, wisdom, and legacy is something that will always be with us. God blessed me immeasurably when he chose her to be my mother-in-law,” Gibson Barnett said. “My marriage gave me more than a husband; it gave me a second mom. I cannot even begin to thank her for all the unconditional love and support she continually shared with us. Life has given me plenty of reasons to be happy, and she is definitely one of them.”
Publix Super Markets Inc. announced the departure of Barnett from the board in 2016 after a diagnosis of younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. She had served as president of Publix Super Market Charities since 1991.
“The Publix family is deeply saddened by the loss of a great humanitarian and community advocate,” Publix CEO Todd Jones said in a statement. “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. She will be sorely missed by her family, our associates and the community. Carol had a generous heart and compassionate soul. Her efforts will continue to improve the lives of others for generations.”
Barnett had strong ties to Florida Southern College, where she graduated in 1979. In the decades since, Barnett – along with her husband Barney Barnett – reportedly donated millions of dollars to the campus.
“None of our success would be where it is today without the influence, advocacy and investments of Carol,” Florida Southern College President Dr. Anne Kerr said.
The college created the Carol Jenkins Barnett Center for Early Childhood Learning and Health in 2020. It offers a “unique interdisciplinary program to positively impact the academic experience of young children,” according to the Florida Southern College website.
In recent years, Lakeland Regional Health established the Carol Jenkins Barnett Pavilion for Women and Children.
“Her compassionate heart and generous spirit helped thousands in our area over the years and her devotion to community service inspired even more people to become involved in helping others,” Danielle Drummond, the president & CEO of Lakeland Regional Health, wrote in a statement.
Barnett worked closely with VISTE, Volunteers In Service to the Elderly, which serves seniors in Polk County.
“She made us all ramp it up a little bit more because you could see what she did. She was always the leader so you thought, I can do a little bit more,” said Alice O’Reilly, a lifelong friend and former VISTE executive director.
“Very major figure. Very special person,” said David Lawrence Jr., retired publisher of the Miami Herald and chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida.
Lawrence worked with Barnett on early childhood education initiatives for 25 years. He acknowledged Barnett was known nationally for her work with United Way on a program called “Success by 6.”
“An especially warm human being – gentle, but tough gentle in the best sense of the word. She knew what she thought, cared deeply about people,” he said.
She and her husband also were involved in the development of the 160+ acre Bonnet Springs Park being built in Lakeland. Her family is requesting donations be made to the park in lieu of flowers.
Barnett is survived by her husband Barney Barnett and her two sons, Nicholas and Wesley Barnett.
A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 11 at the First United Methodist Church in Lakeland. The service will be livestreamed online for those who cannot attend in person.