NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Trudy Cathy White, the daughter of Chick-fil-A's founder S. Truett Cathy and his wife, Jeannette, shared how the faith and quiet strength of her mother contributed to the massive success of the fast-food restaurant beloved by millions of Americans.
White sat down with The Christian Post to discuss her new book, A Quiet Strength, which recounts the life and legacy of Jeannette Cathy, who died in 2015 at the age of 92. Truett Cathy preceded her in death in 2014.
“A lot of people know about my dad who invented Chick-fil-A in 1946; they’ve heard his story and read a great deal about him,” White said. “But the story of my mother has never been told. She was such an inspiration to our family. In fact, we would say that we would not be who we are, nor would the business be what it is today, had it not been for the influence of our mom.”
When Truett and Jeanette Cathy first married, they worked side-by-side, faithfully building up the Chick-fil-A business, White revealed.
“My mother worked as a waitress and did all the accounting and bookkeeping for the restaurant,” she recalled. “And then when children came along, she realized that my dad was going to be working long hours, and she needed to be a stay at home mom and work from there.”
“But she did not take that calling lightly at all,” she said. “She actually is what I call a domestic engineer. She took care of that house, she kept everything organized. She took us wherever we needed to be. And she felt a sense of calling and fulfillment in that.”
According to White, her mother was dubbed the "Chief Supporting Officer" for the positive, uplifting way she championed her husband, family, and the company behind-the-scenes.
“She was the support behind my dad and everything that he did,” White added. “She always wanted to make sure that when he walked out the door, he was ready to be able to do his very best. Because of her, he was able to be successful."
The company’s dedication to prayer and biblical principles, she said, is largely due to Jeannette’s influence. She described her mother as having a simple, yet powerful motto she lived by: "You can with God."
“My mother was a prayer warrior,” White said. “A big part of our culture at Chick-fil-A is to pray for one another, and that is the influence of my mother that has permeated the restaurant culture. She, like my father, believed good business practices are a result of good biblical principles, and we can apply those biblical principles to the practices that we have in business. She believed that God really has the formula for success in life.”
“The goal of our restaurants is to be a faithful steward of what's been entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A,” she continued. “So much of this stemmed from mom's intimate walk with the Lord. She would constantly challenge us to make sure that we were stewarding well what God's entrusted to us.”
The company’s policy of closing on Sunday, White revealed, was also influenced by her mother, who believed in the importance of taking a day of rest after a long work week.
“My father would work so hard for six days, and he’d physically be very tired,” she said. “He and my mother decided it was best to close on Sunday because the Bible teaches that we need to take a day of rest to honor the Lord.”
“That’s why, today, we're committed as a family to keep our restaurants closed on Sunday,” White added. “Not only is it a big help to our staff to realize they have that day off, but we know it's an opportunity to really honor God through it.”
Jeanette’s love for her Heavenly Father was birthed from a place of longing, White said, explaining that her grandfather had abandoned her mother when she was just 3 months old.
“She (my mom) was raised by a single mother,” White recalled. “When she realized that she could be a child of God's, she was just enthralled by that and realized that she wanted to give her life to Christ and follow Him. Her Heavenly Father became her perfect Father for the rest of her life.”
“My mother understood that life can be tough, and there are a lot of difficulties that we all have to face,” she continued, “but we get to choose how we respond to our circumstances. Jesus was so real to her; she talked to Him, sang songs to Him, memorized Scripture, and challenged us to walk with the Lord as well. She would always say: ‘Remember whose you are.’ She wanted to help us to remember that our identity is wrapped up in who God is and what He's doing in our lives and not in who we are, what we do, or what we have accomplished.”
Though she worked at the family business for many years, White and her husband, John, went on to serve as missionaries in Brazil. Later, they co-founded Lifeshape and the Impact 360 Institute, two faith-based nonprofit organizations. Married for 40 years, the couple has four children and 15 grandchildren.
“My mother was not just an incredible role model for me as a person as a follower of Christ, but as a wife, mother, and grandmother as well,” White said. “She prayed for all of us and was our biggest encourager. There's a great verse In Isaiah that says, ‘In quietness and trust is your strength.’ And that is the reflection of who my mom was.”
Today, alongside her brothers, Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A, and Bubba Cathy, senior vice-president of the fast-food chain, White continues to support the family business and carry on her parents' legacy of faith and perseverance.
“I hope my mother’s story encourages other women — whether they are businesswomen or stay-at-home mothers — to know that they can make a significant, God-glorifying impact wherever they are,” White said. “A lot of times women feel that if they’re not in the spotlight, they can’t be much of an influence. But my mother was perhaps the greatest influence behind both the success of Chick-fil-A and her family due to her faith and quiet strength.”
“My mother,” she added, “was willing to step aside and let others get the praise. She always said, ‘If you help others get what they want in life, you’ll get what you want out of life.’ That’s the challenge my mother took on. She helped others achieve what they wanted to achieve because she didn’t need the praise. Her identity was firmly placed in Christ, and that’s an example I think will inspire all women.”