By: KAYLA MADSEN
When Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy died at age 93, America lost a true giant of a business leader.
After serving in World War II, Truett opened his first restaurant—a diner in Hapeville, near Atlanta—in 1946, with his brother Ben. In 1961 Truett invented the boneless chicken-breast sandwich that would eventually become a nationwide phenomenon.
By early 2013 annual sales topped $5 billion as the chain offered up a taste of the South that went beyond chicken.
Truett Cathy was a strong Southern Baptist and the chain gained prominence for its observance of Sunday, none of its hundreds of restaurants are open on that day, to allow employees a day of rest.
According to USA Today, Chick-fil-A made more money being open six days a week then most chains made being open seven.
Growing up in the Great Depression Cathy learned what it meant to work hard, even as a little boy he made money by selling six bottles of Coca-Cola for a quarter.
“I’ve experienced poverty and plenty and there’s a lesson to be learned when you’re brought up in poverty,” he said in 2007. “I had to create some good work habits and attitude.”
Cathy also was known for his efforts to help youth. In 1984 he created the WinShape Foundation to help “shape winners” through youth support programs and scholarships. He also created a long-term program for foster children that have foster care homes in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Brazil.
His sympathy for children was demonstrated in August 2008 when he worked out a deal with the parents of two girls who were accused of causing $30,000 in damage to a home he owned in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. The girls were banned from watching TV and playing video games.
They also had to write “I will not vandalize other people’s property” 1,000 times.
He told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that he didn’t want to have them prosecuted and left with a criminal record.
“There’s really no secret for success,” he said then. “I hope it will open eyes for people. They don’t have to follow my recipe but this is what works for me.”
Cathy’s Southern Baptist faith spilled over into his business with his “Closed-on-Sunday” policy. According to a statement released by the company overnight, Cathy was often quoted as saying: “I’d like to be remembered as one who kept my priorities in the right order. We live in a changing world, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed. I have always encouraged my restaurant operators and team members to give back to the local community. We should be about more than just selling chicken; we should be a part of our customers’ lives and the communities in which we serve.”
Cathy is survived by 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.