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Brenau mourns longtime leader Dempsey

Ex-VP, finance chief lauded for ‘stewardship’ in recession, piano upgrade

POSTED: May 2, 2014 11:35 p.m.

Wayne Dempsey, former executive vice president and chief financial officer of Brenau University, died Friday morning at Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome.

Dempsey, 65, began working for the university in 2005 and retired in 2012 after being diagnosed with cancer. He moved back to his hometown of Rome after retiring.

Dempsey was credited with guiding the university through the economic downtown of the past decade. Brenau University President Ed Schrader said Dempsey’s “good financial stewardship” allowed the university to emerge from the economic crisis in “growth mode.”

“He always saw this effort as providing a way for our students to change the world,” Schrader said. “That sentiment is part of his legacy.”

Prior to his work at Brenau, Dempsey served in a similar role at Shorter College (now University) in Rome. Schrader and Dempsey worked together at Shorter as well.

Dempsey began his career as a high school biology teacher. He went on to work in higher education for more than 25 years.

“Wayne’s presence was a blessing to so many,” Brenau Board of Trustees chairman Pete Miller said. “Brenau University is certainly better off for his dedication, his love and his persistence in making sure the right things were done right the first time. Wayne was a man of character and integrity. I feel blessed that he was a part of my Brenau and personal journey.”

For all of his financial acumen, Dempsey will also be remembered as a talented and encouraging musician.

Dempsey told The Times in a February 2013 interview his passion for music was the result of knowing “the richness of life that music can add.”

Dempsey was honored by the university shortly after his retirement. The school dubbed one of its Steinway pianos, a No. 481 handmade Steinway and Son’s Model D Concert Grand, “The Dempsey Steinway.” The piano can be found in the university’s Pearce Auditorium.

Dempsey was an enthusiastic supporter of the school’s initiative to become an “All-Steinway School.”

The $1.5 million fundraising campaign aims to replace each of the school’s 30 pianos with Steinway pianos. Only about 160 schools carry the distinction.

Dempsey was a regular fixture at the school’s musical events and community events as well.

He played piano and euphonium in the church orchestra at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. He also served on the board of the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra.

A $1,000 scholarship for music students was also established in his honor by the Georgia Independent College Association, an organization that represents 26 not-for-proft college organizations in the state.

Susanna Baxter, president of the Georgia Independent College Association, said Dempsey was a leader among the association’s chief financial officers and many leaders sought his advice.

Baxter said the association’s chief financial officers “spontaneously and unanimously” collected money to start a scholarship in Dempsey’s honor upon hearing of his health condition and retirement.

The first scholarship was awarded in the fall of 2013.

“I think it was a powerful testament to his life that his colleagues admired him so,” Baxter said. “This type of thing had never happened with other individuals who retired and left. I think that’s powerful. It’s not often in our life that we got that sort of affirmation about how meaningful we were to our colleagues.”

Dempsey is survived by his wife Marsha Dempsey, of Rome, and sons Wayne Dempsey Jr. and Jason Dempsey, both of Atlanta.


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