By Maria Saporta
The crème de la crème came out in force Thursday evening to wish Truett Cathy a happy birthday.
The Chick-fil-A motifs and mascots filled the Woodruff Arts Center as dignitaries and friends came to wish the King of the Chicken Sandwich their best wishes.
“It is certainly a great tribute to Mr. Cathy,” said Gov. Nathan Deal, while attending one of the receptions in the High Museum. “He is a great institution for our state, and it’s an honor to be here.”
During the reception, Coca-Cola executive Sandy Douglas announced a $90,000 check to Cathy’s foundation. Part of the goal for the event was to raise funds for the Truett Cathy Youth & Community Center in West End, about a mile away from when Cathy grew up.
After the reception, the guests then were treated to a night of entertainment at Symphony Hall with comedian Jeff Foxworthy as the emcee. Foxworthy grew up in Hapeville, where Cathy founded the Dwarf House and the chicken sandwich.
After a string of jokes, Foxworthy turned serious. He spoke about the influence that Truett Cathy had had on his life and on the lives of others by providing moral leadership, guidance and college scholarships. Foxworthy said that now he and his wife provide college scholarships to students in the United States and Africa “because somebody showed us how.”
Among the dignitaries were former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and developer Tom Cousins, who co-chaired the celebration.
“What I personally admire most about him is his faith,” Cousins said of Cathy. “It’s the real McCoy, it’s how he lives it out every day. It is a rare human being who actually practices what he preaches.”
Young called Cathy “a miracle worker” for all he has done throughout his life.
“You even turned Jeff Foxworthy into a preacher,” Young said.
When Foxworthy got back on stage, he fired back: “You turned me into a preacher and Andrew Young into a comedian.”
Even George W. Bush sent birthday greetings via a video, apologizing for not being able to be there in person.
The evening included performances by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, American Idol finalist Diana DeGarmo and Grammy Award winner Michael W. Smith. It also included great videos and photos of Truett Cathy in his childhood and young adulthood.
Cathy’s actual 90th birthday will be March 14, but it didn’t stop anyone from celebrating a few days early — including Truett Cathy himself.
“I would invite you to be at my 100th birthday, which is coming up 10 years from now,” he told the crowd. “And if I make it to another 10 years, then I’ll be 100 and I’ve got it made because very few people die after 100.”
Throughout the evening, Cathy’s favorite scripture — Proverb 22-1: A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.
Cathy went on to talk about the latest book he’s writing: Wealth: is it worth it?
“Wealth is not the answer,” Cathy said. Instead wealth is having friends and family.
“I appreciate you being here tonight.”
At that point, his son, Dan Cathy, invited the whole Cathy clan on stage to close out the evening with a prayer. And then everyone sang “Amazing Grace,” with Dan Cathy performing the first verse on his trumpet with a wonderful rendition.
If wealth is friends and family, Truett Cathy is indeed a very rich man.