AUBURN — Actor Patrick Dempsey can trace his career origins, in part, to Lost Valley — and a unicycle.
In Lost Valley’s ski lodge in front of a packed and excited Chamber of Commerce breakfast crowd Thursday, Dempsey talked about growing up here, the Dempsey Challenge, the future, the 1980s, getting active and remembering your roots.
He poked fun at himself and apologized early for going off script, but the audience clearly didn’t mind, interrupting to laugh and applaud.
“What’s the future of Lewiston-Auburn? It’s now,” Dempsey, 50, said. “What we do need to do is revitalize and restore what’s already existing. When you take these old buildings, where the Dempsey Center is, and you just transform them — it has so much soul, it has so much history. All that energy is in the wood. You feel it. People come in the center and they are transformed when they open the door.”
Dempsey, who wore a dark suit and black shirt Thursday morning, for years played Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd on television’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and stars next month in the movie “Bridget Jones’s Baby.” He looked relaxed, at home. People in the crowd had driven from as far as Ohio to see him.
Dempsey grew up in Buckfield and Turner and helped found the The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing in 2008, inspired by his mother’s struggles with cancer. The center offers free help and resources to anyone affected by cancer, regardless of where they’re being treated.
“We’ve done (the Dempsey Challenge fundraiser) for eight years in a row because of this community. It’s phenomenal what you’ve done,” he said.
The only slight downside, he said: “The challenge is so successful, what we’ve done is that it overshadows the work we’re doing at the center.”
“We ran on adrenaline for a while,” he said. Now, it’s time to regroup and set goals: “Where are we going to go in the next five years? The next 10 years?”
Dempsey hinted at a rebranding and other news to come. From the audience, his sister, Mary Dempsey, teasingly motioned for him to stop talking and spilling any beans.
He encouraged everyone to keep active: “Walk. Ski. Whatever it is that turns you on and makes you happy,” and gave a shout-out to the Auburn-Lewiston YMCA’s involvement in the Bates Mill No. 5 redevelopment plans.
“We need to be thinking of making this town the wellness capital of Maine,” Dempsey said. “We have to look in the mirror and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, we are special because of who we are.’ Each and every one of you, all of us, are special, we have something to give. That will create so much energy.”
At one point in his talk Dempsey asked Thomas Jumper to join him. The 17-year-old from Lewiston last year started his own business, PhoBoCo, a photo booth rental company, after participating in the local Young Entrepreneurs Academy. He’d just been welcomed as a new chamber member Thursday.
“This is the future. This is who we are,” Dempsey said. “Apprenticeship, mentorship. Look what it produces.”
Also in his wide-ranging talk:
Dempsey on growing up here in the early ’80s: “This was a tough place to be. When you said you were from Lewiston-Auburn, people were like, ‘Ooooh.’ That’s changing and it has changed.
“Look at how Portland has transformed. The mall wiped out the downtown area. Now it’s thriving. You try to buy a piece of property there, it’s outrageously expensive. You have quality of life. You have restaurants. You have atmosphere. How does Lewiston do that?”
On customer service: “My dad had a (bottle) redemption center in Turner, Maine, right when recycling started happening. We were like, ‘What are you doing?’ It was so much (work.) Everybody came through. My dad would talk, sit on the couch. All the other guys would come in and sit around and bulls—. Meanwhile, we’re sorting bottles and putting them in trucks. What we need to remember is that sense of community and talking to people who come through the door and interact with your customers, because they’ll come back to you.”
And on remembering your roots: “I got great advice before I left. I was at the Theater at Monmouth, an actor gave it to me. Advice from an actor is always sketchy” — which got a big audience laugh — “‘Don’t forget where you come from.’ That stuck with me. It’s so amazing. Had it not been for Lost Valley and ski racing, I would never have learned to ride a unicycle (a common way for ski racers to practice balance). It took me a year to learn how to ride and that allowed me to get out of Maine, to go and perform, to get on a show that has transformed my life and my family’s, and brought me back home again.”
He thanked everyone and slipped out to big applause. The Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce had been trying to line him up as a speaker for a year.
“Patrick Dempsey is such a wonderful person,” said Chamber President Matt Leonard after Dempsey’s talk. “I think he’s someone who actually walks the walk. When he talks about helping people first and being a member of the community, he lives that life. He’s a genuine person. I’m proud that he’s a spokesperson for our community. He’s the perfect representative of what Lewiston-Auburn stands for.”