JONESBORO, Ga. (BP) — The life of Truett Cathy was celebrated by 2,000 people who packed the auditorium of First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ga., and hundreds more in an overflow room Wednesday (Sept. 10). The memorial service encompassed stirring music and humor — and an overriding testimony to a patriarchal faith in Jesus Christ.
Cathy, a Baptist churchman who founded the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain and contributed to an array of charitable causes, died Monday, Sept. 8, at his Atlanta-area home. He was 93.
Frequent Scripture passages spiced the memorial service, including one of Cathy’s favorites, Proverbs 22:1: If you must choose, take a good name rather than great riches; for to be held in loving esteem is better than silver and gold.
Cathy earned great riches in the restaurant business but he laid up greater treasures in heaven, such as the eternal influence of teaching an eighth-grade boys’ Sunday School class for six decades.
One former class member, Joshua Werho, paused in his duties as an usher to recall his Sunday School teacher. He really liked teaching that age because it’s the transition to becoming young men, Werho recounted, repeatedly using the word passionate to describe how Cathy taught.
Cathy challenged the youths not to let the world corrupt them and to guard their hearts for the women they would marry, Werho said.
Another former student, Woody Faulk, told the memorial service crowd about the time he found Cathy in the woods on a February day and asked what he was doing. Cathy said he was picking early-blooming jonquils for a Valentine’s Day bouquet for his wife Jeannette. When Faulk asked him why he didn’t just order flowers from a florist, Cathy replied, Don’t you know how much florists charge to deliver on Valentine’s Day?
Faulk used the story to point toward Cathy’s authentic personal faith. I saw that love in action, Faulk said.
Cathy’s faith is worthy of emulation, Faulk said. I want to live like that too, he said. Don’t you?
Cathy’s grandson, Andrew Cathy, recalled lessons learned from his grandfather. Don’t take yourself too seriously was one. Take what you do very seriously was another.
Charles Carter, who served as First Baptist’s pastor for 27 years, called it a high honor to bring the message in Wednesday’s service. Carter drew from Romans 12, saying that Cathy followed the exhortations in the oft-quoted passage.
Carter described Cathy as larger than life — someone who pursued his hopes and dreams while making the world a better place. Noting that Cathy viewed his work in food service as a divine call, Carter said, We could all do well to follow his example.
Even after earning fame and fortune, Carter said, Cathy kept God first. That’s a hard line to walk.
Carter concluded with words addressed to Cathy himself. You’ve left some awfully big shoes to fill. We’ll do our best.
Both of Cathy’s sons also addressed the service. Don Bubba Cathy recalled that his father lived in the same small house for more than 60 years, but he had a 200-car garage. Don’s Sunday School story was that his father threatened no-shows with going to their houses and having Sunday School around their beds.
Dan Cathy, who succeeded his father as Chick-fil-A’s chief executive officer, said he counts the 61 years they shared as precious. I’ll proudly live in the shadow of his legacy for the rest of my life.
For a video tribute by Dan Cathy to his father, click here. To hear audio clips of Truett Cathy describing some of his outlook on life and work, including the famous practice of Chick-fil-A restaurants closing on Sundays, click here.
Tim Palmer is an Atlanta-area writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).