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Monday, September 8, 2014

On the life of S Truett Cathy

I needed to have Chick-fil-A for lunch today.  In times of bereavement, one needs to be with family.  So I drove over and the smells of peanut oil, and waffle fries, and freshly squeezed lemonade were hugs for my heart and tissues for my tears.  I felt better, just being there.


Betsy was delighted for a Chick-fil-A lunch, regardless of the reason.  She recited her order without hesitation.  A #1 with lemonade and honey mustard.  No lemonade, I said.  It's drive thru.  We're eating at home.  Drinks at home are cheaper.  (Truett's frugal nature was my soul mate -- I knew how much profit was built into those restaurant drinks!)


I thought I had used up my reservoir of tears earlier today when Mary and her cohort Kaitlin piped me in via FaceTime to the CFA staff memorial service this morning.  Hearing Dan share about his Dad with such love and tenderness and joy unleashed a torrent of sobs from me.  But I "got it all out" and was looking forward to cheerfully placing my order and being on my way to enjoy the unique deliciousness. I saw the flag at half mast and I teared up all over again. The trip down memory lane.  blurted out when I got to the window "I'm so sorry for your loss.I worked for him for seven years". The CFA employee was so nice. She overlooked my blubbering and thanked me. He was a great man, she said.

Indeed.  A great man.

His favorite Bible verse was Proverbs 22:1 "A good name is rather to be had than great riches" 

To be honest , Truett had both. But the great riches were incidental to him. He was truly never impressed with them.  He had a good name. Because he was truly a great man.

Many thousands of people knew about Truett. Of his business success. Of his unprecedented care for orphans. Of his infallible faith and its indelible effect on his life.   But I was privileged enough to work for him for seven years. I saw him up close. I ate dinner with him. I sat through meetings with him.l I didn't know him as well as lots of folks but  I was directly impacted by his character.    

Here's what I knew him to be:

Generous.   Oh my, Truett was generous.
Although he was extremely frugal (and there are some pretty funny stories about that!), he was never cheap. He paid his employees very well, he lavished tremendous perks on us, and he gave away far more than he ever spent on himself. Yes, Truett was incredibly generous .  His generosity trumped his frugality.

Kind. What a rare trait. Especially for a man.  So precious. He treated everyone just the same.  Never did I feel he looked down on me for being young and inexperienced. I never saw him embarrass anyone nor make anyone feel insignificant.  He was just plain kind and thoughtful.  One evening I was leaving the office late and I passed him in the woods on the way to the parking lot.  He was knee deep in daffodils.....picking a bouquet for his wife Jeanette.  He mumbled something about "cheaper than a florist" !!!!!


Authentic.  The man lived out his faith like nobody's business.  He taught Sunday School for 50 years.  TO MIDDLE SCHOOL BOYS.  Not even a Mom can handle middle schoolers that long!!!!  He always drove a Ford car because he never forgot the loyalty of the Hapeville Ford plant to his original Dwarf House.  He didn't ever care what was "politically correct" or "socially impressive" - he just followed his heart.  Before I was hired, Truett had to interview me.  I had never met the man and was understandably nervous.  Pretty sure HR would've even been more nervous than I was if they had heard his questions......"Where do you go to church?  How long you been dating that boy?  Are you gonna marry him?"  I guess he liked my answers.  I got the job.


Fun.  Every year that I worked there, he and Jeanette had a family day at their home.  We rode motorcycles and horses and ate hot dogs and sat on hay bales.  He wanted us all to have fun.  Because he was fun.  He laughed at himself....and let us laugh at him - his misuse of words, quirky mannerisms, anything.  What other CEO would be so approachable that a 20-something newbie could approach him about being part of a "Rocky" skit in front of 1000 people?  And what other CEO would not only agree but would enlarge his role by dressing up in boxing shorts and having two fellas dress up like Mafia types and escort him in?????


Compassionate.  Truett's compassion drove his life.  He was very tenderhearted and merciful, evidenced by his care for orphans in their distress.  I saw it on a personal level as well.  His daughter Trudy and her husband were missionaries in Brazil while I worked at CFA.  I was in the break room refilling my daily hourly cup of Tab and I bumped into Truett.  I knew he had just returned from visiting Trudy for the birth of her 2nd or 3rd baby.  I asked him how she was doing.  He teared up.  He shared with me that it had been a difficult birth, that hospitals there weren't as good as here, and that it was very very very hard to leave his daughter there and come back.  I reached out to pat him on the arm, tears spilling down my own cheeks.  He responded with a bear hug.  I left my head on his shoulder briefly and, just for a moment, I think I was his surrogate little girl.


Humble.  Confident, decisive, successful beyond his wildest dreams....and yet the most humble man you could ever know. He insisted that we all call everyone by their first name....including him.  For a gal with small town Southern roots, that was awfully hard.  But he persisted.  And eventually, Mr. Collins became "Jimmy" and Mr. Cathy became "Truett". That's just how he was - humble.  And it showed up all over the place!  Once, staff gave him a bronze bust of himself as a Christmas gift.  It was mounted on a pedestal and displayed in the atrium for everyone to see.  I arrived to the office earlier than usual one morning and happened upon Truett dragging the statue into a corner, out of prominence.  Someone would move it back, and inevitably, it would return to the corner.  I don't know who ever won that tug of war!


Unpretentious.   He didn't have degrees to impress people with.  Never cared about the trappings of wealth that he could have easily afforded.  But he did say he thought maybe those of us with MBA's would be OK --- as long as it stood for "Mop Bucket Attitude"!!!!  In other words, nothing was beneath him.  And that's what he expected of all of us.


Diligent.  We were allowed an awful lot of freedom in the office but I never saw anyone take advantage of it by goofing off.  We knew how hard Truett had worked to build this company and we wanted to emulate him by working as hard as we could.  Together.


Empowering.  It's ludicrous, actually, that he would entrust his empire to a group of mostly 20 somethings who had little business experience and even less know-how.  But he did.  He hired a slew of us straight out of college and let us run his company.  A bunch of the time, we didn't know what we were doing.  At least I didn't.  But we all tried and we worked hard and, little by little, he grew us up.  We learned a lot.  And most everybody stayed there so his investment paid off. 
I left CFA for the only acceptable reason - A promotion.....I became a stay at home Mom. 
But in my heart, I never left.  I became a roving ambassador for Chick-fil-A.
And, one day this past June, I turned over to them one of the projects I'd been working on since I left...my Mary joined the CFA team.  In the very department I used to be.  Cannot possibly convey how proud I am.  How thankful I am.  That they have her....and that she has them.
Truett, part of your legacy is that I have one to share back.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.



He was one of, if not THE, greatest leaders to have ever lived.  Because people followed him. I cannot recall a single time Truett ever had to demand anything. He never had to use his position of power. People followed him because he was a great leader. Period. We trusted where he was headed. If he was going somewhere , that's where we wanted to be.


Oh, and one final note - remember how Betsy asked me to buy her lemonade for her lunch today and I refused because we could get drinks at home?  Well........in honor of Truett.....I got her lemonade....generosity trumps frugality every time!