Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy died Monday at the age of 93. He died peacefully at home, surrounded by loved ones.
The company said in a statement that a public funeral service will be held at First Baptist Church Jonesboro on Wednesday, Sept. 10, at 2 p.m. A private family burial for Mr. Cathy will be held in Atlanta on Thursday, Sept. 11.
His wife of 65 years, Jeannette McNeil Cathy; sons Dan T. and Don “Bubba” Cathy; daughter Trudy Cathy White; 19 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren survive Cathy.
Mr. Cathy was known for his strong work ethic and as a devoted Christian believer.
While Cathy’s 2012 comments in opposition to homosexual marriage created outrage within the LGBT community and prompted a boycott of the privately held Chick-fil-A restaurant chain, the restaurant owner was known for so much more.
1. The hard years during the depression
Born March 14, 1921 in Eatonton, Georgia, Cathy’s parents named him Samuel after a pastor friend, and Truett in honor of the well-known Baptist evangelist George W. Truett.
According to two autobiographies written in 1989 and 2002, Cathy’s father was a successful farmer. Due to a plague of boll weevil attacks on his cotton fields the farming business failed.
At three-years-old, the family moved to Atlanta where Cathy’s father pursued a career in insurance sales, but was unable to earn a living selling insurance.
During the depression years of the 1930s, the family struggled to survive, so they took in boarders in their one bathroom home to earn income. Renters slept two to three to a room and received two meals per day, all for only one dollar a day.
In his 1989 autobiography entitled It's Easier to Succeed Than to Fail, explains that the hardships of his youth translated into blessings later in life.
“Growing up in a boarding house introduced me to hard work and taught me the value of diligent labor,” Cathy wrote. “I learned to shuck corn, shell peas, wash dirty dishes, set the table, shop for my mother at the corner grocery store and even flip eggs and pancakes on the grill.”
2. Cathy was a true leader
Cathy started the business in 1946, when he and his brother, Ben, opened an Atlanta diner known as The Dwarf Grill (later renamed The Dwarf House).
The Dwarf House had four tables and 10 counter stools. The major menu items were:
Bacon and tomato sandwich…25 cents
Steak sandwich…30 cents
Bacon and eggs…30 cents
Fried ham…25 cents
Pie…10 cents per slice
Coca Cola…5 cents
The restaurant was open 24-hours a day, six days a week. But it closed on Sundays to give the brothers (and later employees) a day of rest combined with participation in church activities.
Through the years, that restaurant prospered and led Cathy to further the success of his business. His uniquely created chicken sandwich would soon outperform the traditional hamburger.
In 1967, Cathy founded and opened the first Chick-fil-A restaurant in Atlanta's Greenbriar Shopping Center. At the time of Cathy’s death, Chick-fil-A has the highest same-store sales and is the largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain in the United States based on annual system-wide sales.
The following prepared remarks from Chick-fil-A Executive Vice President of Operations Tim Tassopoulos, were made at the Chick-fil-A at The College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta Monday, September 8, 2014:
"When Truett created the Original Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich, he never knew it would feed millions of people a year, nor be credited as America's 'Tastiest Chicken Sandwich' by Consumer Reports.
"Over the years, Truett expanded Chick-fil-A to more than 1,800 Restaurants – in fact, the one we're standing in opened just a couple of weeks ago. He often talked about how he never planned for Chick-fil-A to be the size that it is today.”
3. Generosity was a core value
According to the company Chick-fil-A reports that it has given over $68 million in donations to education and charities since it’s founding.
Cathy’s WinShape Foundation, founded in 1984, grew from his desire to "shape winners" by helping young people succeed in life through scholarships and other youth-support programs.
The non-profit organization funds 13 foster homes, marriage counseling, a wilderness program, retreat getaways and youth camps.
The foundation provides 120 students at Berry College (Rome, Georgia) with experiential training in leadership and community. In addition to the training, WinShape Foundation provides a $4,000 scholarship to these students enrolled at Berry College. Also, through its Leadership Scholarship Program, the Chick-fil-A chain has given more than $32 million in $1,000 scholarships to Chick-fil-A restaurant employees since 1973. This year, the company will award $1.75 million in scholarships to its restaurant team members.
In 2006, Cathy told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I see no conflict whatsoever between Christianity and good business practices. People say you can’t mix business with religion. I say there’s no other way.”
The chain has also taken its generosity to the gridiron. After its own namesake the Chick-fil-A Bowl— the classic college football match-up and longest-running rivalry between Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams lead all bowls in charitable donations to a variety of charities, and has provided a record $7.4 million total payout to participating universities.
4. Closed on Sundays is both practical and spiritual
While most fast food restaurants are open 7-days a week, Cathy laid the foundation of building his business on biblical principles early.
Cathy made the decision to close on Sundays in 1946 when he opened his first restaurant in Hapeville, Georgia.
Bean counters might say that was a poor business decision, but the numbers don’t lie. Chick-fil-A boasts more than $5 billion in annual sales.
Chick‑fil‑A is one of the nation's largest privately held restaurant chains—with more than 1,800 restaurants in 40 states and Washington, D.C. (as of September 2014)—and the largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain in the nation, based on annual system-wide sales.
“Truett Cathy demonstrated that the lordship of Christ is about the whole of life,” said Russell Moore, president of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “He modeled integrity, hard work and compassion. The ‘closed on Sundays’ sign on his stores is a countercultural statement that man does not live by bread alone, and there is more to life than a bottom line. He is now in that eternal Sabbath rest, where the banquet is never closed. On earth, he will be missed and, I pray, emulated.”
He long believed that franchise Chick-fil-A owners, operators and employees should have an opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so.
During an interview in 2009, Cathy said he never thought twice about being closed on Sundays.
"I think, isn't that incredible, isn't that neat?" Cathy told ABC News. "That we can be closed on Sunday? We're generating more business in six days than all these other tenants are generating in seven? And we can be with our family."
5. He was a faith-driven businessman
While Truett Cathy has feed millions of people chicken sandwiches over the years, most close to the restaurateur says feeding souls brought him the greatest joy.
“Nearly every moment of every day we have the opportunity to give something to someone else – our time, our love, our resources,” said Cathy. “I have always found more joy in giving when I did not expect anything in return.”
Cathy exemplified that he practiced what he preached by forgoing his salary when times got tough during the recession of 1982.
In the Bill Graham Evangelical Association’s magazine Decision, Cathy explains, “Too many CEOs are leaving sinking ships. They should be the last ones to leave the company. If some people are losing money, everyone should lose money, not just the stockholders.”
Dr. Jim Denison, Ph.D of the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture says it would be a disservice to simply describe Cathy as a “rags-to-riches” success story.
“Here’s what Truett Cathy’s decision proves,” Denison wrote. “The more difficult our obedience, the greater our reward.”
While Mr. Cathy has sold more chicken sandwiches than most can comprehend, Denison adds there is great paradox in his decision to be closed on Sunday.
“He witnessed to the Lord's priority in his life every Sunday, to every person who drove past his closed restaurants. He touched more people by that one decision than many pastors will reach in a lifetime.”
Russ Jones is co-founder of Christian News Service, a content creation and news distribution firm. He's also a media consultant to a number of cause oriented campaigns and organizations. Russ has been a guest on such programs as the Mike Gallagher Show, the Dennis Prager Show, Bill Martinez Live and Sandy Rios in the Morning. He holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master’s degree from St. Paul School of Theology. He is married to Jackie and together they have four children.
Publication date: September 10, 2014