As news spread through Lakeland today about the death of philanthropist and Publix heiress Carol Jenkins Barnett at age 65, friends and others whose lives she touched paid tribute. Some of those recollections follow. We will continue adding comments on Thursday.

Wesley Barnett, son
My mother had a passion for helping others, especially children. 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. But most importantly, she was the anchor of our family. A mother, a grandmother. Her infectious smile, inimitable personality, and abounding love will never be forgotten.

News coverage: The Ledger / USA Today | News Channel 8 | Forbes | Miami Herald

Todd Jones, CEO, Publix Super Markets
The Publix family is deeply saddened by the loss of a great humanitarian and community advocate. 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.

Ashley Gibson Barnett, daughter-in-law
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. 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.

Bill Mutz, mayor
Carol Barnett has been an extraordinary philanthropist. She continued the generous grace of giving,  patterned by her father, with zeal and excellence.  Her goal was to seek life change and provide safety nets for the needs of others. This led to many formative and supportive gifts to educational and health care entities. She also preserved history by supportive funding of entities like the Polk Theatre. There are opportunities in Lakeland that would not exist today had she been unwilling to stand in the gap financially. Creating Bonnet Springs Park was a high priority for her and it is the most recent example of a family investment which will continue to dramatically change the public spaces in Lakeland while providing an iconic park element regionally.  

Funeral services will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at First United Methodist Church. The service will be live-streamed at this link. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Bonnet Springs Park.

Anne Kerr, president, Florida Southern College, Barnett’s alma mater
Carol left an indelible impact upon Florida Southern College. 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. 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.

Terry Worthington, former CEO, United Way of Central Florida
Carol was involved with United Way of Central Florida since its formation in 1980. I was privileged to see the difference she made in the lives of so many. Carol could have lived anywhere but chose to be devoted to Lakeland. Through her leadership at Publix Super Markets Charities, millions of dollars were provided throughout the Southeast. Following her example, the culture of “giving back” has been instilled in hundreds of thousands of generous Publix associates. Carol and Barney have carried forward the spirit, generosity and legacy of George Jenkins for the benefit of us all.

Danielle Drummond, President and CEO, Lakeland Regional Health
Carol Jenkins Barnett’s compassionate heart and generous spirit helped so many in our area, and her devotion to community service inspired even more people to become involved in helping others. It is such an honor to have the LRH Pavilion for Women and Children named after such a remarkable woman, whose love for our community knew no bounds. Her legacy will live on, yet she will be greatly missed by all who knew her.

Christina Criser, president and CEO, United Way of Central Florida
As we mourn the loss of Carol Jenkins Barnett, we remember a woman with an incredible legacy in our community and with the United Way of Central Florida. In 1995 Carol Jenkins Barnett helped found Success By 6 – a community-wide children’s initiative that brings together resources for all children to have the foundation they need by age 6 to grow into healthy, productive members of the community. She founded ReadingPals, a statewide early literacy initiative that provides volunteer mentors for students from VPK to 3rd grade. She founded the Parent Resource Center at Family Fundamentals, where parents and family members can access information, support services, and tools they need to be the best parents they can be. am personally grateful for the many opportunities she continues to provide our nonprofit sector to live out our life goals to serve. Carol taught so many of us how to be problem solvers and to not take no for an answer.

Alice O’Reilly, retired executive director, Volunteers in Service to the Elderly
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.

Steve Bisonette, president, Volunteers in Service to the Elderly
We all know that the volunteer ethic in our community is truly amazing, and I believe much of that can be traced back to Mr. George. Carol certainly continued his legacy of care and generosity which is now carried on through her children. Our community is better and stronger as a result.

David Lawrence, chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida and retired publisher of the Miami Herald
Simply one of the finest people I have ever known. A great saint in “school readiness” and early learning. Taught me by example, and did so for this past quarter-century. The mother of building a movement to help all children succeed in school and in life. Loved by her family, her community, her state … and me and so many others.

Polk County Public Schools statement
Polk County Public Schools is mourning the loss of Carol Jenkins Barnett, a devoted education advocate and staunch supporter of our students. As president of Publix Super Markets Charities, her generous assistance has touched the lives of countless children over the years. She was also a founding board member of the Polk Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization managing private and corporate donations benefiting PCPS students. She spent more than 20 years serving on this board, providing her wise guidance and loyal backing.

Gow Fields, former mayor
Carole’s kind, generous and loving spirit is what stood out to me in our introduction as Leadership Lakeland Class VII members. Her loving spirit only grew as she impacted more of the world around her, particularly this community. Her love for people and desire to positively impact grew as well, especially for children. She represented the best in all of us and will be forever in our hearts and minds.

Angela Garcia Falconetti, president, Polk State College
I extend my sincerest condolences to the family of Carol Jenkins Barnett, especially our District Board of Trustees Chair Ashley Bell Barnett and volunteer Wesley Barnett,. The college community is saddened by Carol’s passing. She will be remembered for her philanthropic heart and steadfast commitment to the Polk County community. We are grateful to Ashley and Wesley for paying Carol’s kindness forward.”

Sylvia Blackmon-Roberts, consulting firm CEO and community volunteer
I got to know Carol through the many community boards we served on together. This led to our friendship and her being a part of the sponsors who invited me to become a member of the Junior League, making me the first African American member. I was also honored when she asked me to work on her Success by 6 initiative that led to Family Fundamentals resource. The last time I saw Carolyn during a Publix fundraiser for the Carol Jenkins Barnett Pavillion, she looked at me, smiled and said, “Hello Friend”. That’s how I will always remember her: as my friend.

Katherine Fitzwater, Junior League of Greater Lakeland
I had the privilege of presenting Carol with her honor as a notable member of the Junior League several years ago. She was an amazing role model for me and so many in this community.

John Fitzwater, retired publisher, The Ledger; retired CEO, Givewell Community Foundation
Carol was a remarkable person and dedicated to the people of Florida and certainly Lakeland. We were so fortunate to have her as  a friend.

Lincoln Tamayo, head of school, Academy Prep Center of Lakeland
Academy Prep Lakeland, like so many other charitable, social endeavors, would not exist but for the love and commitment Carol and her husband, Barney, have for Polk County and its people, and especially for those who are often marginalized.  Lakeland and the surrounding communities are far better off because of Carol, who lived life glorifying God and His Love for all His children. Carol Jenkins Barnett served God lovingly and beautifully amongst us.

Bill Tinsley, president, Bonnet Springs Park
This beautiful lady made everyone around her a better person. Her vision and leadership with a focus on early childhood education have changed countless lives. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to learn from her, and her example, what real commitment means in willingness to give both time and resources. Carol’s belief that connecting the Northwest Community of Lakeland to downtown would level the playing field for so many people. Bonnet Springs Park is a tribute to Carol Jenkins Barnett. A special place for families where education on the environment and a wonderful outdoor place to learn that brings people together. 

Shawn Sherrouse, city manager
All one has to do to recognize the extreme love and commitment that Mrs. Carol Jenkins Barnett had for Lakeland is to look atop the Lakeland Regional Health Pavilion for Women and Children.  Her name is adorned there, befitting a generous woman who touched the lives of so many.  Even in her physical absence, Mrs. Carol’s presence will forever be felt in the Lakeland community.

Tony Delgado, retired city manager, via Facebook
Absolutely heartbreaking news. 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.

Carolyn Baldwin, retired head of school, All Saints Academy
I knew, worked with and loved Carol Barnett for more than 30 years. Carol had a vision for education and it’s importance in the lives of young people that led her to champion educational projects of all types. Her commitment and vision for quality education for young people led her to deep partnership with All Saints Academy during my tenure as Head of School. She and Barney gifted the Anne MacGregor Jenkins Lower School named for Carol’s mother. The Barnett Learning Commons, one of the major academic buildings on the Hampton Campus at All Saints Academy was a project of Carol’s. The scholarship programs at All Saints Academy during my tenure were always heavily gifted and supported by Carol. More than monetary support, as a benefactor Carol supported All Saints Academy with her constant presence on campus by attending student performances and events, sports contests and being active in the life of the school.

John Burton, former executive director of Achievement Academy and of Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In
I extend our sincere condolences to Barney Barnett and the extended Barnett family on the passing of Carol Jenkins Barnett. Like many non-profit administrators in and around Polk County (and beyond!), I experienced first-hand the kind, always gracious and benevolent generosity of Carol, Barney and the Barnett family over many years. Additionally, Carol (and Barney) always took personal interest in the events, activities and organizations in which they invested. I don’t think Lakeland can ever quantify the amount of personal time, interest and financial support Carol and her family have provided to the community and surrounding areas for nearly a century. It is a sad day for us all to say goodbye to such a caring, giving person. There will be no waiting line at Heaven’s Gate for Miss Carol.

Deena Palas Wilbur, executive director, Polk Senior Games
Carol’s dad was a founding supporter of Polk Senior Games. She would bring him to the closing celebration and it was always a pleasure and a treat to have them there. Carol continued her support and Publix Charities still supports the Games and we are sincerely grateful.

Becky Abel, former coordinator, Lakeland Downtown Development Authority
My daughter and Carol’s son Wesley were in a very small cooperative preschool. Parents had to take turns assisting the paid staff/teachers. She was the only other mom besides me who was a little older than average for having a 2 year-old. We got along well, but did not expand the friendship beyond the school. I really did not make the Publix connection until most of the year was over.

Bonnet Springs Park
The team at Bonnet Springs Park is deeply saddened by the passing of Carol Jenkins Barnett. Carol is best known for her philanthropic spirit, infectious smile, and love for her family. Without her, Bonnet Springs Park wouldn’t be a reality and we are immensely grateful for her beautiful gift that will improve the quality of life for future generations. Her lasting legacy will live on in our park forever. We cannot thank her enough for the gifts she has blessed our community with. Our hearts are with her family and everyone whose lives were touched by her benevolence.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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  1. There are many people who are financially able to be called philanthropists. Carol Jenkins Barnett was one who took advantage of that ability. She will be remembered not just for one major contribution but fit for a multitude to help so many.

  2. In 1995, I had the honor of interviewing Carol Jenkins Barnett after she founded Success By 6, a community-wide children Initiative spearheaded and coordinated with the United Way of Central Florida on Update (now ‘Our Voices’) live radio broadcast on WLKF TALK 1430 AM studio. I recall how she invoked, with passion and purpose, the need for children to read, as well as the need to provide the proper tools to enable their ability to achieve that personal goal.

    I extend my sincerest condolences to the entire Barnett Family. I believe the poem best describes Carol Jenkins Barnett for me … its heart felted read ” When Great Trees Fall” by Maya Angelou.

    One writer analyzes the poem ” When Great Trees Fall” quiet well. I have posted her exact quotes below. Although not the actual poem.

    In the first lines, the speaker begins by using an extended metaphor to describe a natural scene. She speaks about the reaction of animals when “great trees fall”. They hide, hunker down, and “lumber after safety”. The metaphor compares the death of loved ones to the monumental shifts that occur when large and powerful trees fall in the forest.

    As the poem progresses, she moves on to directly speak about “great souls” and how human beings react to loss. The third stanza discusses one’s inability to breathe and the sharpening one’s memory undergoes. The poem concludes with a message of hope and renewal, suggesting that after a loved one’s death that “We can be…better. For they existed”.

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