LEWISTON — Amanda Dempsey, described as a great lady and a determined fighter, died Monday after a long battle with cancer.

The mother of actor Patrick Dempsey, she was the inspiration for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing, established at Central Maine Medical Center in 2008.

“The entire Central Maine Medical family mourns the passing of Amanda Dempsey,” said Peter Chalke, president and CEO of Central Maine Healthcare.

“Amanda Dempsey was both a great lady and a determined fighter who displayed tremendous courage, class and grace during her long battle with cancer,” Chalke said in a written release.

Dempsey Center Executive Director Wendy Tardif said Tuesday that Amanda died just shy of her 80th birthday in a hospice setting. There was time for her children, other family members and friends to say goodbye, Tardif said.

Dempsey had battled ovarian cancer for 17 years, Tardif said. “I do think people see her as a resilient, feisty, courageous woman who gives people a lot of hope.”

Surviving cancer for so long is a success story, Tardif said. “That’s why she’s always been this amazing person for us. She’s always had a positive attitude.”

Her death is a loss for the center, Tardif said. “She’s been an iconic figure. To say she’s going to be missed is an understatement. The Dempsey Challenge will feel a little different this year, more profound.”

Through an email, daughter Mary Dempsey said her mother was “a humble, beautiful spirit, with great courage who lived life in the present, and gave hope to all.”

Before Amanda Dempsey retired, she worked as a secretary at Buckfield Junior/Senior High School.

Principal George Reuter, who started at the school years ago as a substitute teacher, recalled how Dempsey was the one who called him to come to work.

“My in-laws were teachers here. Amanda lived next door to them,” Reuter said Tuesday. As a school secretary, “everybody liked her.” Dempsey was firm but kind with students. “She wasn’t a push-over,” he said. “She was well-respected.”

Patrick Dempsey’s experience of dealing with his mother’s illness while living in California led to the creation of The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing. In 2007, the Dempsey Family approached Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston with the idea of creating a local cancer support center.

Amanda Dempsey received treatment for her cancer at CMMC and the family wished to not only help other families affected by cancer but also to give back to their local community, Chalke said.

The Dempsey Center was founded by Amanda’s children, Patrick, Mary and Alicia, in honor of Amanda, and in partnership with CMMC.

The Dempsey Center provides free cancer support, education and integrative medicine services to anyone affected by cancer, regardless of where treatment is received, Chalke said in his written statement. The center had more than 16,000 service contacts in person or by phone during 2013.

According to Dempsey Center employees, it was not uncommon for Amanda to be behind the scenes volunteering, sewing handmade comfort items for cancer patients, keeping an eye on the quality control of the items or tidying the storage closet, Chalke said. 

She often brought in apples from her own trees or homemade jam, and sewed individualized door hangings for staff members’ offices when the center moved to its new location in 2012.

In five years, the Dempsey Challenge has raised more than $5 million for the Dempsey Center, and has brought thousands of participants from 38 states and 12 countries to Lewiston.

“Patrick and the entire Dempsey family have made a huge difference in this community,” Chalke said.

“The Dempsey Center staff is a key component of the comprehensive cancer care provided in our region. Both the Dempsey Center and the Dempsey Challenge event are a real source of pride for our community. We will miss Amanda deeply, but we were all blessed by knowing her and being inspired by her life story.” 

This year’s Dempsey Challenge will be held Sept. 27 and 28. Patrick Dempsey, who is the star of the annual challenge, has appeared in dozens of movies and television shows, including a character called Dr. Derek Shepherd on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.”


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