Jerry Edward Dempsey
October 1, 1932 – March 12, 2019
Jerry Dempsey died peacefully at home March 12, 2019 surrounded by his loving family. He was preceded in death by his wife of 59 years, Harriet Calvert Dempsey. Jerry, a Landrum, SC native, was born in 1932, the second of three children to parents who worked in area textile mills. In his youth, he pedaled a 12-mile bicycle route twice a day to deliver newspapers and raised chickens to sell for $1.25 apiece from the back of his wagon. Even at a young age, he dreamed of running a major American corporation and he knew he would need to save his money if he hoped to go to college. Over the years, he achieved his dream and climbed to the upper echelons of three major corporations. He never forgot the value of faith, family, hard work, and devotion to service and leadership. In high school, he played basketball and baseball, was on the debate team and served as student body president. He graduated valedictorian of his class. Jerry graduated from Clemson University with a mechanical engineering degree in 1954. After graduation, he accepted a job with Owens Corning Fiberglas and left six months later to serve in the military. He later rose through the ranks of Borg-Warner, becoming president and chief operating officer in 1979. Jerry considered a major break in his career to be his selection in 1960, from a pool of high potential employees from every division, to become the Executive Assistant to Robert Ingersoll, then chairman of Borg-Warner. Ingersoll became Jerry’s mentor, encouraging him to enroll in the MBA program at the University of Chicago. This invaluable experience fueled Jerry’s lifelong willingness to mentor and help open doors for others. He joined WMX Technologies in 1984 as vice chairman and a year later was promoted to president and CEO of the Chemical Waste Management subsidiary, becoming chairman in 1991. Two years later, he retired as chairman and CEO and took on those positions at PPG Industries Inc. He was the first outsider hired for a top job in the company’s 110-year history. He retired from PPG in 1997 and relocated to Greenville. He and Harriett had always looked forward to returning to their southern roots. He remained an avid golfer in retirement and pursued many philanthropic interest in the community. A former chairman of the Greenville Health System board of trustees (now Prisma Health–Upstate), he and his late wife, Harriett, in 2014 made a generous gift to the GHS Cancer Institute as seed money for the Rare Tumor Center. Of their gift, he told The Greenville News, “I came out of the business community, and you're always looking at unmet needs and how to fill them with a new service." He hoped Greenville would become a national destination for those suffering from rare tumors. The News noted Jerry chaired the GHS board during the health system’s 100th anniversary and he was credited with much of the behind-the-scenes work to help make a four-year medical school in Greenville a reality. In February, about 150 engineers, medical doctors, students and health professionals gathered in Greenville for the Harriet and Jerry Dempsey Research Conference, the latest effort to expand the collaboration between Clemson University and Prisma Health–Upstate. The idea behind bridging the two institutions was that Clemson could bring the engineering expertise and the health system’s clinicians could help ensure research remained grounded in what happens in real-world health care settings. Jerry was a key pillar of that bridge. He was a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board of the Clemson School of Engineering and chairman of the university’s President’s Advisory Council. He was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Clemson Engineers in 1995 and received Clemson President’s and Distinguished Service awards. Jerry co-chaired the Commission on the Future of Clemson and the corporate committee in Clemson’s Capital Campaign. Jerry was a 1995 Horatio Alger award winner. He was a director of the Greenville Country Club and the Greenville Symphony. He was a member of the Greater Greenville Forum and an Elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Greenville. His family moved multiple times as Jerry’s career progressed. Wherever they lived, Jerry got involved and celebrated each season of his life, filled with gratitude, humility and graciousness. His example motivated family members to be better people. Jerry never forgot that he was born in a four-room house with no indoor plumbing and only a wood burning stove for heat. Throughout his life, he sought to be a good steward of the time, talents and treasures with which he had been blessed. He truly believed that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Survivors include a brother, Gerald Dempsey, Jr., of Taylors; a sister, Barbara Mishoe of Charlotte; daughters, Libby Hebdon (Mike) of Marietta, Ga.; Becky Cooledge (Courts) of Atlanta; Margaret Christensen (Mark) of Hastings, MI.; grandchildren, Alexandra, Elizabeth and Scott Hebdon; Clay and John Cooledge; Marion Christensen Ray (Mickey), Lee Christensen Sanchez and Jerry Christensen; great-granddaughter, Rebecca Sanchez; special friend Kay Foster of Greenville; and faithful friend and devoted employee for over 20 years, Unzel Dixon. Also surviving are numerous nieces and nephews and their families. A memorial service will be 2 p.m. Friday, March 15, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church Greenville, 200 W. Washington St., Greenville, S.C. 29601, with Dr. Richard Gibbons and Dr. Shelton Samford officiating. The family will receive friends Thursday evening from 5pm until 8pm at Mackey at Century Drive. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to First Presbyterian Church-Greenville, Capital Campaign, 200 W Washington St., Greenville, SC 29601; Prisma Health-Upstate, 300 E. McBee Ave., Suite 503 Greenville, SC 29601; the Greenville Symphony, 200 South Main St., Greenville, SC 29601.
Arrangements by Mackey Funerals and Cremations at Century Drive. Please share a story about Jerry at mackeymortuary.com
- Harriet Calvert Dempsey, Wife
- Gerald Dempsey Jr., Brother
- Barbara Mishoe, Sister
- Libby Hebdon, Daughter
- Mike Hebdon, Son-in-law
- Becky Cooledge, Daughter
- Courts Cooledge, Son-in-law
- Margaret Christensen, Daughter
- Mark Christensen, Son-in-law
- Alexandra Hebdon, Grandchild
- Elizabeth Hebdon, Grandchild
- Scott Hebdon, Grandchild
- Clay Cooledge, Grandchild
- John Cooledge, Grandchild
- Marion (Mickey) Christensen Ray, Grandchild
- Lee Christensen Sanchez, Grandchild
- Jerry Christensen, Grandchild
- Rebecca Sanchez, Great Granddaughter
- Kay Foster, Special Friend
- Surviving also are numerous nieces and nephews and their families, and faithful friend and devoted employee for over 20 years, Unzel Dixon.
First Presbyterian Church-Greenville, Capital Campaign
200 W Washington St., Greenville, South Carolina
300 E. McBee Ave Suite 503 , Greenville, South Carolina
200 South Main St, Greenville, South Carolina
- Visitation Thursday, March 14, 2019
- Memorial Service Friday, March 15, 2019
Jerry Edward Dempsey
March 12, 2019
I don`t think any of us were ready for Jerry`s passing. He always seemed so healthy and active! He was my friend!
He was an upperclassman when I was a freshman at Clemson. Being our company cadet first sergeant, he could select any of us to be his "rat" to help keep his room in top shape. The second semester of my freshman year he chose me to be his rat. I considered it a privilege. He was always willing to help me with math problems and he designed and prepared my Rat Diploma (rat dip) that all the upperclassman were supposed to sign at the end of our freshman year.
After he retired and moved to Greenville, we had some good chats. He was a super man in all the important ways.
May God hold Jerry`s family in His loving arms during this time of sadness! God is always sufficient to care for His children!