I was saddened to learn yesterday of the homecoming of one of America’s great businessmen, S. Truett Cathy. Mr. Cathy launched the Chick-Fil-A restaurants that have become famous across America. Cathy began the chain in the Atlanta suburb of Hapeville in 1946 with a restaurant called the Dwarf Grill, named because of its small size. It was there that he created the chicken sandwich that later became the signature item on the Chick-Fil-A menu. In his own words, “He didn’t invent chicken – just the chicken sandwich.”
Cathy was a man of tremendous faith and principle. He was a member of the First Baptist Church of Jonesboro, Georgia, where he taught Sunday School for more than fifty years. Due to his strong Christian beliefs, all Chick-Fil-A restaurants are closed on Sunday to allow employees the privilege of attending church with their families.
Cathy is the author of five books. His books deal with such topics as motivation, parenting, and finances.
Mr. Cathy dedicated both time and resources to various philanthropic causes, especially those that related to needy children. He provided a Leadership Scholarship program for his restaurants’ employees. This program has awarded more than $23 million in $1,000 scholarships over the past 35 years. In 1984, Cathy launched the WinShape Foundation which has provided roughly $18 million to fund the development of foster homes and summer camp.
He fostered children for over 30 years and took in nearly 200 foster children through WinShape Homes, a foster care program that includes eleven foster homes in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. In recognition of his philanthropic efforts, Cathy received the Children’s Champion Award for Family and Community from the Children’s Hunger Fund.
Cathy’s traditional family values have motivated him to donate over $5 million to groups that fight the raging tide of sodomy in our country. These groups include the Marriage and Family Foundation, Exodus International, and the Family Research Council.
Cathy was honored by President George W. Bush with the Lifetime President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2008. In addition, Liberty University bestowed an honorary doctorate on Cathy in 2012.
In 2007, Forbes magazine ranked Mr. Cathy as the 380th richest man in America and the 799th richest man in the world. His estimated net worth at that time was $1.2 billion.
I attempted twice in my life to meet Mr. Cathy. The first was while waiting at Lane Packing, a famous peach orchard in Georgia. Mr. Cathy was scheduled to arrive at the orchard and store that day, but somehow his plane was delayed, and our paths never crossed.
My second attempt was at Christmas time. My former church in Georgia had for twenty consecutive years hosted a Christmas outreach called Christmas Spectacular, later called Christmas at Grace. We invited Mr. Cathy to be our keynote speaker, but he respectfully declined. His reason was that he did not want to take time away from his Junior Boys’ Sunday School class. He wanted to be there for those boys and thus was declining speaking invitations on Sunday. According to his secretary, he was also declining invitations on Thursday through Saturday so that he might be adequately prepared to teach that class on Sunday.
Mr. Cathy lived what he preached. Helping children was not just a sermon title. It was a way of life. Both his time and treasure revealed that Mr. Cathy loved God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself. I regret that our paths never crossed. I felt somehow that I was let down, but let down for good reason. One day, however, I will have a chance to meet the man who invented the chicken sandwich as we both admire the One who invented the chicken.