FLORIDA, USA — Carol Jenkins Barnett, a philanthropist and the daughter of Publix Super Markets' founder, died Tuesday, the company said in a statement. She was 65.
Barnett was surrounded by family at her home and, according to The Ledger, passed away of complications from Alzheimer's disease. She was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's in 2016 at the age of 59, the newspaper said.
Before her diagnosis, she served on Publix's board of directors and served on the board of Publix Super Markets Charities, The Ledger said.
Barnett has a long history of philanthropy; she and her husband Barney have donated millions over the last few decades to places in Lakeland, including United Way and Lakeland Regional Health, the supermarket chain said in a statement.
The Ledger says Barnett is considered the wealthiest person living in Polk County and has ranked on Forbes' list of World Billionaires every year since 2008.
"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.”
Polk County Public Schools said Barnett, described as a devoted education advocated, helped "countless children" through her generosity over many years. She was part of founding the Polk Education Foundation and spent more than two decades on the nonprofit's board.
"She recognized the importance of literacy and early learning — establishing the United Way’s ReadingPals program, whose army of volunteers continue to make an invaluable contribution to our students and schools," the school district wrote in a statement. "Mrs. Barnett has always been a caring and compassionate force for good. Our prayers remain with her family and loved ones."
Barnett was one of two daughters of George W. Jenkins, the founder of Publix Super Markets. He died in 1996 at the age of 88. Barnett is survived by her sister, Julie Jenkins Fancelli, whom The Ledger says lives in both Italy and Lakeland.
Publix was founded in 1930 in Winter Haven and is the largest and fastest-growing employee-owned company in the U.S., according to the supermarket chain.
A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland. In lieu of flowers, Publix says the family requests donations be made to Bonnet Springs Park — a park founded by Barnett through her last philanthropic gift.