Carol Jenkins Barnett, a daughter of Publix Super Markets founder George Jenkins and an heir to his Florida-based fortune, died Tuesday night at age 65, the company announced on Wednesday.
Barnett passed away “late last evening in her home surrounded by her loving family,” according to the statement from Publix. She was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, the year she shed her decades-long duties as a Publix board member and president of the supermarket chain’s charitable arm.
One of the Publix founder’s seven children, Barnett owned a minority stake in the business, which has been around since 1930. George Jenkins was himself one of many children of a general store owner in Georgia. He started Publix with $1,300 he had saved to buy a new car after moving to Florida and leaving rival Piggly Wiggly.
Today, the supermarket chain employs about 225,000 people in nearly 1,300 stores across the U.S., according to its website. It posted sales of $44.9 billion in 2020. As the largest employee-owned company in the U.S., an estimated 80% of Publix is owned by its workers. The rest of the ownership is in the hands of the Jenkins family, which had an estimated net worth of $8.8 billion as of December 2020, according to Forbes. Employee ownership and a focus on treating customers’ well led Forbes to call Publix “The Walmart Slayer” in a 2013 article.
Barnett for her part was worth $2.1 billion at the time of her death, Forbes estimates. She spent her career at Publix, where she began working as a cashier at 16 years old and later joined the company’s board of directors and what would become the Publix Super Markets Charities. In 1989, when her father suffered a stroke, she was appointed to chair the company’s charity’s board. Jenkins died in 1996.
Barnett is being remembered for her charitable giving, including generous donations to Florida Southern College, where she and her husband both attended, and the Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center. Publix CEO Todd Jones praised Barnett as a “great humanitarian and community advocate” in a statement commemorating her.
“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,” said Jones. “She will be sorely missed by her family, our associates and the community.”