NASHVILLE -- Joseph Hillman Harvey Jr., known throughout Central and South Georgia as Joe Harvey, the man behind the Harveys supermarket chain, died Thursday after a long battle with cancer.

Harvey, 76, started working in his father's grocery stores when he was 5 years old and helped found the J.H. Harvey Company Inc. in 1950. Emphasizing friendly customer service and a wide selection of fresh meats and local products, the Harveys chain grew from a handful of stores in the early 1950s to 45 locations in Georgia and north Florida in 2003, when he sold the company to Delhaize Group, the parent company of Food Lion.

"Mr. Joe Harvey understood completely the bond that exists between a family and its local grocery store," said Tom Robinson, Harveys chief operating officer. "He believed in no excuses and shouldered 100 percent of the responsibility for Harveys. He instilled in every Harveys store three basic principles -- exceptional customer care, low prices and developing the best team members in the grocery business."

Through the years, Harveys

customers felt as if they knew Joe Harvey personally from his TV commercials and frequent store visits. From the early 1950s until 2005, when his health declined significantly, he never missed a store grand opening, where he would personally welcome customers. His desire was that Harveys stores always lived up to the company motto, "The Friendliest Store in Town."

Born in 1929 in Nashville, Harvey served customers iced soft drinks in his father's store when he was 5 years old. By the time he was 9, he worked daily in the store and did so until he graduated from high school. After attending college, Harvey returned to the family business and was appointed secretary of the J.H. Harvey Co. at age 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 Group, which has grown the chain to 66 stores, serving 500,000 customers weekly in Georgia and north Florida. After the 2003 sale, Harvey maintained a lesser role with the company, continuing 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 contribution to the food industry in the state of Georgia.

Harvey is survived by his wife, Martha Brumley Harvey, and several children, grandchildren and great-grand children. Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, at Strickland Auditorium at Epworth by the Sea - St. Simons Island. The family requests in lieu of flowers, memorials be sent to Epworth by the Sea, P.O. Box 20407, St. Simons Island, Ga. 31522.

"Mr. Harvey will be missed. He has certainly left a legacy in the stores he built, the customers he served and the fine persons he employed," Robinson said. "Harveys customers can take comfort knowing our stores will honor the memory of Mr. Harvey by remaining the friendliest grocer in town."

J.H. Harvey Co., LLC is a subsidiary of Delhaize America, the U.S. division of Brussels-based Delhaize Group (NYSE: DEG). Harveys operates 66 stores and employs approximately 3,500 team members delivering the finest quality products and service to its customers in Georgia and Florida.

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