S. Truett Cathy, the controversial founder of Chik-Fil-A, has died.
According to a statement issued by the chicken sandwich chain, Cathy died at 1:35 a.m. Monday, "peacefully at home, surrounded by loved ones." He was 93.
Cathy started his restaurant empire in 1946, when he opened a small diner in an Atlanta suburb, creating a chicken sandwich that would go on to be the foundation of one of the nation's largest family-owned companies. Currently, there are more than 1,800 Chick-Fil-A restaurants operating in 40 states and Washington, D.C. Cathy remained active in the company and, until his death, retained the title of chairman emeritus.
A devout Southern Baptist, Cathy taught Sunday School for more than 50 years, kept his restaurants closed on Sundays so employees would have a day for "family, worship, fellowship or rest," and part of the profits of his privately owned company were donated to his WinShape Foundation, which had a strong Christian faith-based component in its programs that include providing marital counseling, summer camps for children, and youth support programs.
The Chick-Fil-A founder turned the reins of his chicken kingdom over to his son, Dan Cathy, in 2001. Dan Cathy has been extremely vocal in his religious beliefs, quoting scripture on his official company page. In 2012, Dan Cathy was embroiled in controversy when he was quoted in the Baptist Press and the Ken Coleman Radio Show as being opposed to gay marriage, saying:
"I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,' and I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about."
The company quickly issued a statement backtracking on its leader's views, saying, "The Chick-Fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect -- regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 Restaurants run by independent Owner/Operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena."
Truett Cathy will be remembered at several funeral and memorial services, including one open to the public at First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Georgia, on Wednesday, September 10, at 2 p.m.