Tom Cousins is an Atlanta developer and philanthropist.

Truett Cathy’s legacy looms large

Of all the great people I’ve known, I’ve never encountered a finer individual than Truett Cathy. He was unique in so many positive ways. He was a gracious, inspiring friend, and in business he was a man whose handshake was as good as an airtight contract.

Truett was an original. He was sincere in every respect, and he built his business around his Christian faith and his family. He never preached at anyone, did not wear his religious faith on his sleeve. He simply walked the walk and lived his faith humbly each day. Closed on Sunday was a big statement when he started Chick-fil-A in 1946, and it remains so today. He believed it deeply. In all the wonderful news reports this week about his life, it cheered me to read a quotation that I recall from way back: “If it took seven days to make a living with a restaurant,” Truett said, “then we needed to be in some other line of work.” The “we,” of course, referred to his entire family as well as his employees.

Truett took his own path and moved at his own pace. Building personal wealth never seemed to be a concern. Yet he was as ambitious and determined, and as hard to discourage, as any entrepreneur I’ve seen in my nearly 60 years of work in real estate development and philanthropy. Truett persevered. He was a single-minded entrepreneur, and he was far from being a “get rich quick” kind of thinker. But you never doubted that he intended to succeed. He spent years developing his original recipe for a chicken sandwich, and he was 46 when he finally decided he had it right and opened that first Chick-fil-A restaurant. Today there are more than 1,800 of them in 46 states, with annual sales approaching $6 billion. All this, and he maintained Chick-fil-A as a private company, never risking putting profits ahead of his principles – i.e., pressure from the markets to open on Sunday.

Loving his family, adhering to his faith, building foster homes for children, providing scholarships for his employees; providing camps, training and scholarships to young people through his WinShape Foundation; managing his business – somehow Truett made it all personal. As if we were just one big family.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us “you are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden, neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” I can think of no better way to describe Truett Cathy, whose light remains with us and whose life offers lessons for generations to come.

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