TIFTON -- The man behind the Harvey's supermarket chain, Joseph "Joe" Harvey Jr., died Thursday after a long battle with cancer.

Harvey, 76, began working in his father's grocery stores when he was five years old serving iced soft drinks. By the time he was nine, he worked daily in the store and did so until he graduated from high school. He helped found the J.H. Harvey Co., Inc., in 1950 and the Harvey's chain grew from a few stores to 45 locations in Georgia and north Florida by 2003. The company was sold that year to Delhaize Group, the parent company of Food Lion.

"Mr. Joe Harvey understood completely the bond that exists between family and its local grocery store," wrote Tom Robinson, Harvey's chief operating officer in a press release. "He believed in no excuses and shouldered 100 percent of the responsibility for Harvey's."

Robinson said Harvey instilled three basic principles for every store: exceptional customer care, low prices and developing the best team members in the grocery business.

"He was a good man," said Curtis Waldon, who manages the Harvey's on 3rd Street in Tifton. "That (community) was his main focus and the people were his business."

Waldon said Harvey made it a point to visit stores and talk with customers and managers. Waldon, who has been working with Harvey's at one location or another for six years, met him.

Harvey was a familiar personality on television commercials.

From the 1950s until 2005, when his health began to decline, Harvey never missed a store's grand opening, Robinson said.

Harvey was born in 1929 in Nashville. After attending college, he returned to the family business and was appointed secretary of the J.H. Harvey Company at 21. In 1980 he became president and CEO of the company, and was made chairman of its board in 1989.

In 2003, Harvey negotiated the sale of the company to Delhaize Groupe, which has grown the chain to 66 stores in Georgia and north Florida. Harvey maintained a lesser role with the company after the sale but continued to appear at store openings and other events. In 2004, Mercer University in Macon awarded Harvey an honorary doctor of commerce in recognition of his accomplishments and contributions to the food industry in Georgia.

Harvey is survived by his wife, Martha Brumbley Harvey and several children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be held Saturday at Strickland Auditorium at Epworth by the Sea in St. Simon's Island.

To contact city editor Angie Thompson, call 382-4321.

React to this story: