A Good Man Who Loved My Momma’s Biscuits
September 26, 2014
TRUETT CATHY, Chick-fil-A founder who died recently at age 93, dined with my family when he visited Brownwood, Texas, to speak at Howard Payne University chapel services in 1993.
I was HPU president then, somewhat surprised he had accepted our invitation. Upon his arrival the evening before, my “timbers were shivered.” Without hesitation, he accepted our invitation for a country breakfast featuring my mother’s biscuits.
She’d had a lot of practice, turning them out every morning of my growing up years. Relatives and friends often dropped by around breakfast time in case there were a couple of biscuits left. I was clueless at the time; I understand now.
Cathy, then 72, showed no signs of slowing down. It would have been easy for him to cite reasons why he couldn’t come to Brownwood. After all, it was a trip of more than a thousand miles, the last 130 by car. I guess my mom—who lived until age 89–could have groaned about her age. She was 82 at the time, still independent, living alone and baking biscuits.
I told her Mr. Cathy from Chick-fil-A would join us for breakfast, and that I knew he’d love to try her flaky biscuits.
“Fire up the oven and I’ll be over by six-thirty.” I knew she would.
The pair hit it off. “Best biscuits I ever ate,” he complimented as he finished off a third biscuit laden with butter and homemade fig preserves.
“No way,” she answered.
Thus it went, back and forth, neither budging. She insisted that biscuit-baking was so easy; she just “threw a few ingredients together.”
As we left the table, he handed her coupons for free sandwiches at the mall location. “Oh, there’s no way I could take those,” Mom balked. An equal number of “yes’s” and “no’s” followed. Finally she relented, “But I want to see you when I’m out there,” she emphasized. “Which shift do you work?”
My eyes rolled; his sparkled.
Already relaxed in the warmth of his presence, I was in no way embarrassed about my mom’s unintended “reduction in rank” for the fast food giant. As we descended the front steps, I said, “Mr. Cathy, we need that every day, don’t we?” referring, of course, to her faux pas.
“We need such humbling every minute of every hour of every day,” he said with a chuckle.
His lifelong concern was maintaining a good name instead of accumulating riches, and he indeed “practiced what he preached.” The gentle billionaire never forgot his roots, and his generous spirit spurred many checks to worthy causes. For a half-century, he taught a Sunday School class for 13-year-old boys at First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, GA, a town of about five thousand.
Employees loved him for a life so well lived. He and Jeanette, his wife of sixty-five years, have built 13 foster homes for more than four hundred foster children, and their foundation, WinShape, supports hundreds of others. The children are “raised right,” nurtured in Christian environments emphasizing the importance—and dignity–of hard work.
They’ve been given help to attend college, as have Chick-fil-A employees, who so far have been beneficiaries of more than $32 million in scholarships.
I asked him which came first, the chicken or…. “I don’t know,” he answered, “I’m just glad the chicken came.”
Remember, he never claimed to “invent the chicken—just the sandwich.”
What a life and what a legacy! From the Dwarf Grill opened with his late brother in 1946, to the first Chick-fil-A in 1967, to more than 1,800 stores in thirty states, to annual sales now exceeding $5 billion, his handprints are everywhere.
I wish I could have attended the funeral to hear first-hand the many tributes to an icon. More than four thousand did, overflowing the church.
He died at 1:30 a.m. on a Monday. He’d already requested that stores remain open during his funeral, and didn’t want employees to feel obligated to attend on their day off. It was a Wednesday service.
The CFA chairman emeritus will be missed by the Cathy family and by masses of Americans who love his sandwich. We may not like them a smidgen more, though, than he liked my mom’s biscuits. I never told her that he was Chick-fil-A’s founder and “main man.”
Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 817-447-3872.
Please click the book cover image to read more about the humorous and inspirational stories of Don Newbury in When The Porch Light’s On.