Cover photo for Theta  May  Dempsey's Obituary
Theta  May  Dempsey Profile Photo
1946 Theta 2023

Theta May Dempsey

October 19, 1946 — March 10, 2023

There are times that opportunities come up in life and a choice is made that affects people generationally. When Theta Dempsey made the decision to begin work on her master’s degree at the University of Oklahoma in 1983, no one could have known the impact she would have on OU, Norman, and a wide range of people across the state and nation. A celebration of her life and its impact will be held Sunday, March 26, at 5 p.m. at the Jimmie Austin Golf Course. She died on March 10 at Norman Regional Hospital after a short illness.

Dempsey was born in McAlester on Oct. 19, 1946, to Alene and H.L. Dempsey. She graduated from high school in 1964 and earned a bachelor’s degree from Southeastern Oklahoma State. She returned to McAlester as a high school teacher in 1968 and greatly expanded the drama program. She primarily taught speech, acting and debate, and always had willing volunteers to play the younger roles in McAlester performances when she called upon her nieces and nephews.

After 14 years of teaching, Dempsey moved to Norman and began work on a graduate degree. At the same time, she began working the counter at OU’s Norman campus Office of Parking and Transit. Dempsey’s impact took effect on the OU’s campuses and beyond. By the time she finished her graduate program three years later, she had been promoted to assistant administrator. She stayed with the Parking and Transit department, and her duties expanded when she was named director in 1995. She retired as OU’s Director of Parking and Transportation Services in February 2010. The longest serving director in the history of the department, the campus transportation operations center was named in her honor upon her retirement - as was a grilled cheese sandwich at a campus restaurant.

Dempsey was a member of the International Parking and Mobility Institute, Southwest Transit Association and Midwest Campus Parking Association. She served multiple terms as treasurer for MCPA and multiple years as secretary/treasurer of Oklahoma Transit Association. She also served as a representative on the Association of Central Governments.

She was active in campus governance, serving as president of her employee member group multiple times and as chair of the Norman campus Staff Senate. Recognized for her commitment to excellence, she often was chosen to serve on selection committees for campus leadership and academic administrators.

Her involvement and commitment to the profession was recognized by her peers. Dempsey received the inaugural MCPA Pyramid of Success Award in 2004. In 2006, she was named the Transit Professional of the Year by the OTA. She received the OU Regents Award for Superior Staff – Norman Campus in 1995. She also was recognized by then-Gov. Brad Henry and the City of Norman when she retired.

Throughout her career, Dempsey was known for her ability to communicate with legislative leadership in Norman and the state of Oklahoma to advocate for increased transit funding that would benefit all public transportation systems throughout Oklahoma. She oversaw a transit system that provided bus service throughout Norman as well as offering curb-to-curb service for local residents who were unable to use regularly scheduled bus routes. She led the project to develop the transportation operations center and was a strong advocate for alternative fuels, achieving an extensive alternative fuels initiative, including cleaner energy options, enhanced operational efficiency and the state-of-the-art maintenance facility. She had a special talent in communication, bringing multiple view points, even if very different, to the table to reach consensus. People who knew Dempsey were aware of her talents as a leader and peacemaker. She could be counted on to do the right thing, even when no one was looking or it wasn’t the popular choice.

Shortly after arriving in Norman, Dempsey met Debbie Copp, who became her life partner. They would have celebrated their 40th anniversary later this year. They shared a love for reading, Broadway musicals and following Sooner teams. Dempsey’s priorities were in perspective as nieces and nephews who followed her to OU knew they had a friend who would always listen but never void their tickets.

Dempsey shared her talents and time with several organizations in Norman. She was a board member and board president of the Women’s Resources Center and was the “left hand” for the long-running fund-raiser, The Sullivan Family Concert, for the WRC.

She was preceded in death by her parents; her sister, Becky Young, and her brothers, Hurchell Lee Dempsey Jr., Jim, Jack and Dick Dempsey.

She is survived by her partner, Debbie Copp; her sister, Shirley Burkhart, and brothers, John and his wife, Diane, and Dan, and numerous nieces and nephews and great nephews and nieces.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Women’s Resource Center or the campaign for Love’s Field for the Sooner Softball program.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Theta May Dempsey, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Celebration of Life

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Starts at 5:00 pm (Central time)

Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club

4 Ransom Drive, Norman, OK 73019

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