Jeannette McNeil Cathy, widow of the founder of US family-owned fast food chain Chick-fil-A, has died in Atlanta, Georgia, aged 92.
In a statement, her son, second-generation chairman and CEO Dan T Cathy, said his mother was “the spiritual nucleus and encourager of our family”.
Cathy’s husband, S Truett Cathy, founded Chick-fil-A in 1946. Today the company remains privately owned and has revenues over $5 billion.
In a press release, the company said Cathy had played a key role in her husband’s business achievements, helping him to grow his first restaurant Dwarf Grill into a family empire.
The restaurant chain is famously, and sometimes controversially, proud of the Southern Baptist values of the founding family. “Perhaps Cathy’s most significant role has been influencer and nurturer of her family’s faith,” the company said.
The family business experienced a mixture of condemnation and support due to the donations it made to groups campaigning against gay marriage.
Gay rights groups called for boycotts and “kiss-ins” at the family-owned restaurants and The Jim Henson Company, famed for the Muppets franchise, pulled its toys from the chain’s children’s meals.
Meanwhile, Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee responded by establishing a Chick-fil-A “appreciation day”.
The company also closes on Sundays so employees can observe the Sabbath day.
Cathy was preceded in death by her husband, who died at the age of 93 in September last year. The pair were childhood sweethearts, who had lived on the same street as children.
They established the WinShape Foundation in 1982 to foster “Christ-centred living”.
A celebration service was held for Cathy on Saturday at a local Baptist church.
She is succeeded by her three children, 12 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.