Amanda Dempsey, the mother of Maine-born actor Patrick Dempsey, died Monday after inspiring many during her 17-year fight against cancer. She was 79.
Her battle with ovarian cancer led to the creation in 2008 of The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.
“The entire Central Maine Medical family mourns the passing of Amanda Dempsey,” Peter Chalke, president and CEO of Central Maine Healthcare, said in a news release. “Amanda Dempsey was both a great lady and a determined fighter who displayed tremendous courage, class and grace during her long battle with cancer.”
Dempsey was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1997 and fought multiple recurrences over the years. Wendy Tardif, executive director of the Dempsey Center, remembered her Tuesday as resilient, courageous and stoic.
“Any time Amanda had a recurrence, she said, ‘What can we do about it?’ ” Tardif recalled. “She was always trying to find a solution. She always wanted to know that there was something else she could do. Unfortunately, this last time her options ran out.”
Dempsey’s experience in fighting ovarian cancer numerous times is not uncommon. According to the website ovariancancer.org, about 70 percent of patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer will have a recurrence. It also says recurrent ovarian cancer is treatable but rarely curable.
Dempsey, of Auburn, had her cancer treatments at Central Maine Medical Center. In 2007, the Dempsey family approached the hospital with the idea to create a local cancer support organization. A year later, the center was founded by her children: “Grey’s Anatomy” star Patrick Dempsey; Mary Dempsey, assistant director of the center; and Alicia Hatten, who lives in Florida.
The center provides free cancer support, education and integrative medicine services to people affected by cancer. Last year, the center had more than 16,000 service contacts in person or by phone.
“Mom was a humble, beautiful spirit, with great courage who lived life in the present and gave hope to all,” Mary Dempsey said in a written statement.
Amanda Dempsey had been a regular volunteer at the center, quilting items for cancer patients and fixing previously donated items.
For the past five years, Dempsey led the survivor walk during the annual Dempsey Challenge weekend alongside her children, grandchildren and other family members. She was a visible face at events, though she preferred to stay out of the limelight. In 2012 she made her first appearance on stage, thanks to some coaxing from her son. The center’s website tells the story.
“Come on up here and say a few words, Mom!” Patrick Dempsey said, laughing. “Amanda gave him that look mothers give their sons – half grin and half ‘you’re in trouble.’ She slowly walked up to the microphone, and quietly addressed the crowd: ‘I just want to say, thank you all for coming. Drive safe.’”
This year’s challenge is scheduled for Sept. 27-28. The event has attracted participants from 40 states and 11 countries and raised more than $5 million for the Dempsey Center.
“Amanda has been an iconic figure at the Dempsey Challenge,” Tardif said. “She has always been this icon of hope … this beam of light for people at the challenge. Now, this year, that won’t be the case. There will be somber moments for sure. Again, it brings us all back to the importance of what we’re doing and the lives we are impacting.”
The Dempsey Center’s Healing Garden will be named in Amanda Dempsey’s honor.
Dempsey, formerly of Harpswell and Turner, was a secretary at Buckfield High School for many years. Her obituary, which was posted on the Pinette Dillingham & Lynch Funeral Home website Wednesday afternoon, said she was an avid gardener, quilter, and hunter.” It said she loved renovating old houses and that no project was too large or too daunting for her.
She is survived by her husband, Howard Lowell, of Auburn; and her three children.
“Amanda was very proud of her children’s accomplishments; however, she never hesitated to tell Patrick to drive slower, Alicia to quit dying her hair, and Mary to get a “pixie” cut,” the obituary says.
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday at Saint Dominic Academy, 121 Gracelawn Road in Auburn.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made in Dempsey’s memory to the Dempsey Center 29 Lowell St., Lewiston, ME 04240.
Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: