For any Christian within the southeastern United States, the name S. Truett Cathy immediately brings to mind the best boneless chicken sandwich, from a business that honoured the Lord’s Day.
Mr Cathy’s faith and hard work ethic took a humble post-war diner in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, to a prosperous private company with restaurants in 40 states, making 5 billion dollars in annual sales.
On 8 September 2014, S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-Fil-A, died at the age of 93 and Christians across the nation mourned his death. Born on 14 March 1921, in Eatonton, Georgia, Samuel Truett Cathy grew up in a poor family and was one of seven children.
After moving to Atlanta, his family couldn’t pay rent and were forced to start their own boarding house. Truett and his brother Ben had to learn at an early age to work hard to survive. Truett began selling bottles of Coca-Cola at the age of 8 in his front yard and then sold newspapers from the age of 12. When a teenager he earned several recognitions for his skill in sales.
He joined the United States Army after high school and served until 1945. After the end of World War II, Cathy and his brother started a small restaurant called the Dwarf House in Atlanta.
Although his business had a rough start, Mr Cathy’s stalwart determination and hard work kept his business afloat. Then, in 1961, he had a breakthrough and invented the first boneless chicken breast sandwich, which became the mainstay of his restaurant for over 50 years.
He started the first Chick-Fil-A restaurant in the Greenbriar Shopping Center in 1967 and it became a huge hit. From that first store, his company now encompasses over 1,800 stores in 40 states and Washington D.C.
From the start, Cathy declared he would not conduct business on the Lord’s Day and sought to uphold that principle throughout his life. He once said to a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution: ‘It’s a silent witness to the Lord when people go into shopping malls, and everyone is bustling, and you see that Chick-Fil-A is closed’.
This may seem a costly bet in business profit, but Chick-Fil-A makes more money in six days than most other quick-service restaurants in seven. This is a definite blessing from the Lord.
Mr Cathy’s love and service toward others was manifested in more than feeding customers the best chicken sandwich. In 1982, he founded the Winshape Center Foundation, a charitable organisation that seeks to enrich young lives and foster personal growth.
In 1987 the foundation started the first of eleven foster homes throughout the southeastern US for under-privileged children. Not only has Mr Cathy helped at-risk children through the foundation, but he gives scholarship money to 30 students at Berry College and to many Chick-Fil-A employees going to university, through its Leadership Scholarship Program.
The foundation also maintains annual summer camps for at-risk children through the Winshape Camp and Retreat, and the Cathy family has been an integral part of that ministry.
As a faithful church member of First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Georgia, Cathy served for over 50 years as a Sunday school teacher of 13-year-old boys at his church. Also he has fostered over 150 children with the help of his wife, Jeannette.
Mr Cathy’s stalwart Christian witness has not been without difficulty and persecution. In the words of the New York Times, he was known ‘as a conservative Christian who ran his business according to his religious principles. He was at once a hero and a symbol of intolerance. Many admired him for closing his outlets on Sundays and speaking out against same-sex marriage. Others vilified his … chain as a symbol of hate’ (8 September 2014).
Truett Cathy, his sons, and the company have been adamant in their support of traditional marriage and have done so through press conferences and massive donations to groups that oppose gay marriage.
Truett and his sons have received a considerable amount of persecution in this regard and many gay groups have held boycotts, rallies, and other tirades against Chick-Fil-A.
Even the mayors of Boston and Chicago blocked the opening of a Chick-Fil-A in those cities because of the company’s values. But no matter the pressure, Chick-Fil-A stood its ground on Christian principles.
Having grown up eating Chick-Fil-A most of my life, and also having worked in one for a short period of time, I am always proud and happy of this company and its values.
It is no small thing to be a Christian businessman in the USA and stand on biblical principles in the face of adversity. But I think that Mr Cathy would echo me in saying that opposition comes as no surprise.
Our Lord Jesus Christ said in John 15:18-19: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you’.
S. Truett Cathy was a man who sought to love and serve others. He will be sorely missed by his friends and family, and many who regularly serve or dine at one of his restaurants. We can rejoice in the knowledge and hope that we shall see him in ‘Emmanuel’s land’, along with our blessed Saviour.
The author served as a student worker with Sheffield Presbyterian Church, UK, until August, when he returned to the USA
Pic: President George W. Bush& Mr Cathy