LAKELAND — Carol Jenkins Barnett, the daughter of Publix founder George Jenkins and a prominent Polk County philanthropist, has died. She was 65.
Jenkins Barnett died late in the evening Dec. 6 in her home, surrounded by family, according to a statement from the Lakeland-based grocer. The former chair and president of Publix Super Markets Charities, she was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, the company said in the statement.
“The Publix family is deeply saddened by the loss of a great humanitarian and community advocate,” Publix CEO Todd Jones says in the release. “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.”
Jenkins Barnett was born and raised in Lakeland. She began with Publix in 1972 as a cashier at the Grove Park Shopping Center in Lakeland. She later worked in Publix’s corporate marketing research and development department, the release states. In 1983, she was elected to the Publix board, where she served for 33 years.
In 1983 she also joined the foundation’s board of directors — which would later become Publix Super Markets Charities. “That instilled in her a passion for the needs of the communities Publix serves,” the release states. “This experience gave her a deeper understanding of her father’s interests, philosophies and goals for philanthropic giving.”
Following her father’s stroke in 1989, the charities board appointed Jenkins Barnett chair. In 1991, she was named chair and president.
Other organizations and causes Jenkins Barnett supported include Junior League of Lakeland, the United Way, Florida Partnership for School Readiness and Family Fundamentals, “as well as countless others,” the release states, often with her husband Barney Barnett. The couple also funded numerous community projects in the area, including Barnett Park and the Carol Jenkins Barnett Pavilion for Women and Children at Lakeland Regional Health. Her final philanthropic gift was the founding of Bonnet Springs Park.
Jenkins Barnett is survived by her husband, Barney Barnett; two sons, Wesley Barnett (Ashley Bell Barnett) and Nicholas Barnett (Ashley Gibson Barnett); three grandchildren: Raleigh, Birdie and Zoey; and many other family members. She was preceded in death by her father, George, and mother, Anne.