Mary Ellen Dempsey

mary dempsey
Mary Ellen Dempsey of Lansdowne, VA slipped the bonds of earth during the early morning of April 15, 2022, just one week shy of her 99th birthday. She was born on April 22, 1923, to parents Margaret Yeatts and Toy Adkins in Hurt, Pittsylvania County, VA. Mary Ellen attended the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina (“WC”), now the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Upon graduation in 1941, she accepted a position with Johnson & Wimsatt, Inc., a wholesale lumber company in pre-war Washington, DC, where she met her future husband J.P. Dempsey of Martinsville, VA. They were married in November 1942. Mary Ellen soon took a job with the War Relocation Authority, which managed the Japanese internment camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor. She worked alongside several Japanese nisei (born in the U.S of Japanese immigrants), former internees, with whom she became lifelong friends.

Mary Ellen lived her life for her husband and sons. Ever the southern lady, she was proud to be an eighth generation Virginian and her Jefferson family heritage. She loved the arts, interior design and entertaining. In 1961, the family relocated to Newport News, VA, where she studied painting with the late Agnes McMurran Johnson and became an accomplished artist. She was an avid member of the Peninsula Fine Arts Society. While in Newport News, she was a Pink Lady with the Riverside Hospital and established its original gift shop when the hospital moved to its current J. Clyde Morris location from Downtown. When the family returned to Northern Virginia in 1967, she enrolled in the International School of Design in Washington, DC, honing her design and decorating skills. She graduated in 1970.

Mary Ellen is pre-deceased by her husband, J.P. Dempsey, both of her parents, sisters Martha Rice and Margaret Leslie Dean. She is survived by sons Joseph Pritchett Dempsey, III (Deborah) of Marshall, VA and David Jefferson Dempsey of Fairfax, VA; and sister Alice Jefferson Robinson of Roanoke, VA. The family would like to thank her wonderful companion, Jeanne Keenan, and caregivers Dalia Benavidez, Carmella Esteban, Mara Garcia and Carmen Gutierrez for their kind and compassionate care, and the Capital Caring Hospice for its support.

There will be a celebration of Mary Ellen’s life on Thursday, May 5, 2022 at 2:30 p.m. at the International Town and Country Club, 13200 Lee-Jackson Hwy, Fairfax, VA. She will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery with her husband at a later date following a service at the Old Post Chapel. In lieu of flowers, consider contributing in her memory to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 200 N. Arthur Ashe Boulevard, Richmond, VA 23220 or Capital Caring Health Philanthropy, 3180 Fairview Park Dr, Suite 500, Falls Church, VA 22042

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  1. My condolences to the family. Mary Ellen was always warm and hospitable, a gentle southern lady. A joy to spend time with. I look forward to seeing her again in the earthly paradise she hoped for as promised in Revelation 21:4 – “he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more…”

  2. To the Dempsey family: I never met Mary Ellen but came to know her during several wonderful years of working with her remarkable daughter-in-law, Deborah, who spent a lot of quality time with Joe’s mother. I have a vivid image of Mary Ellen as a woman of strong character, independence, and resilience who had a life-long passion for the arts and culture, and an unfailing devotion to family. I know there is sadness in parting with her but hopefully no regrets for a loving family that enriched her long and productive life in so many ways.

  3. Lew and Kathy Miller We send our sympathy to Mary Ellen’s family. Mary Ellen expressed great love for her sons and often mentioned they were taking very good care of her. “They are such good boys,” she told me on the phone. I replied, “Of course they are, Mary Ellen. You raised them!” She then laughed and for a moment her very weak voice became stronger. I will miss her laugh, her cheerfulness, and her many sincere expressions of appreciation. She was a beautiful and gentle soul. The promise of the resurrection comforted Mary Ellen, especially during the last 2 years when her dear sisters, Martha and Leslie, fell asleep in death. She believed Jesus’ words that someday “all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.” (John 5:28-29) May that scriptural promise also bring her family and friends comfort and hope.

  4. Margaret Hardy My condolences to Joe and David, Mary Ellen’s sons that she loved so much, and who demonstrated their deep love for their dear mother in their tender care for her. My condolences as well to the rest of her family. I had the pleasure of meeting Mary Ellen just a few years ago and found her to be simply a delightful “lady”. We became good friends and often traveled to our Christian meetings together at our local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We were able to spend quite a bit of time together the last couple of weeks of her life. We talked and laughed together until she was no longer able to do so. We considered together scriptural texts that were dear to her heart. One in particular that she loved is found in the book of Isaiah 35:5-6 that states: “At that time the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. At that time the lame will leap like the deer, and the tongue of the speechless will shout for joy.” Mary Ellen really looked forward to the time when she would experience the fulfillment of those bible promises, to be whole and healthy again, and to live at a time when the earth would be a peaceful paradise from one end to the other. It brought her much comfort and joy to know that such a beautiful hope is held out to her as well as to those she loves. I do hope this will also prove to be a source of comfort to her family and all who love and miss her.

  5. David, Thank you for sharing Mary Ellen’s obituary in the Daily Press. She lived a long life and I trust a flourishing life. My memories of her from Dogwood Drive lead me to believe she did. I always felt welcome at your house. My Dad is still around – he is 93 and I live down the street from him – still in Riverside. I imagine he is one of the older VT/Corp of Cadets/German Club/Old Guard fellows by now. Best wishes to you – I used to see you in Blacksburg from time to time, but I have not been there in a while. I hope you are well. Royden

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