Patrick Dempsey Cultivates his Maine Roots

Patrick Dempsey Cultivates his Maine Roots

The actor tells us lessons he learned while growing up in Maine and what keeps him returning to his home state.

by Katherine Englishman
Photography by Christina Wnek

Issue: March/April 2021

Patrick Dempsey’s roots run deep in Maine, and the accomplished actor, race car driver, and philanthropist is quick to point out how strongly he feels pulled back home. Dempsey grew up in the Lewiston-Auburn area, where in 2008, a decade after his mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, he founded the Dempsey Center, which provides free quality-of-life care to people affected by cancer. In this interview, Dempsey discusses his work providing health and wellness services to Mainers in need at the Center, his appreciation for Maine’s people and wild places, how those things made him who he is today, and his hopes for the future.

How are you doing so far in the new year?

We’re still sorting out the year. There’s so much instability with everything happening in the country. It’s been very hard to maintain a center, stay positive, and not get caught up in the noise, but I’m feeling optimistic and hopeful. It’s nice to feel like there’s a shift in the right direction. It feels like we’ve all been able to center ourselves a little bit more, like the pressure valve has been released in a way. I think there’s still going to be a lot more coming up in the next few months, where a lot of that energy is going to get dispelled, hopefully.

I know you love to visit Maine often. Do you find you can dispel that energy and feel more grounded and centered here? I’d love to hear more about how your upbringing in Maine has shaped you in that way.

For me, Maine’s very important. I think one of the best pieces of advice I got was to never forget where you came from. I grew up in a small town outside Lewiston-Auburn called Turner for the first 12 years of my life. Then we moved to Buckfield, which was a rural town, and I was in the middle of nowhere. So, I went from having the luxury of getting lost in the wilderness of Maine to the New York City life at 17, but my roots and my origin, if you will, are in Maine. It’s always nice to come back, go to the Dempsey Center, and also just be centered.

Do you feel like your Maine origins help you stay grounded?

I think the sense of a small town really applies itself when you go out into the world. Everybody knows everybody, so you have to be able to get along, and if you don’t agree with your neighbor, you have to be able to work through it and be civilized. I think those are important lessons that we need to remember right now, more than ever.

How has that sense of community stuck with you while pursuing your passions away from Maine?

The thing you realize when you leave is the strong sense of community. You can feel that presence in the sense of, if you invite support, you can get it, but if you also want to stand strong and be on your own, people give you that space as well. I think there’s an altruistic nature to most Mainers and a real sense of giving back. Now that I have a place in southern Maine, I get to go back and connect to the land. I have a place to center and reflect on where I’ve come from and where I’m going. It brings up a lot of emotion and memories.

What kinds of memories?

You see the sadness in places where the businesses and way of life are gone—the ghosts of the past in old mill towns. Then you’ll see something like Biddeford, and a revitalization of these areas, which is exciting. With our technology, I think we’re seeing we’re not as isolated in Maine and, hopefully, can generate more businesses and opportunities to come to this state.

With everything you’ve done to help promote revitalization and give back to the larger community, what do you want your legacy to be in Maine?

To share the great state. I get to invite people to come and experience nature—certainly the coast and food and all the microbrews. All the wonderful things that we have to offer. And the mission of the Dempsey Center. We want to make sure that we’re there for Mainers who’ve been diagnosed with cancer on their cancer journey. I hope we meet that challenge in a sustainable way and bring support and empowerment to people who’ve been impacted by cancer. I hope that is the legacy.

That’s beautiful. Any plans to come back?

As soon as I finish in New York, I’ll be up to Maine. There’s some work to do at the Center, and it’s just good to come home. It’s always nice after a project to decompress in Maine and be at the house. I can relax in a way that I don’t find anywhere else.

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