The Atlanta-based restaurant chain Chick-fil-A, has suffered the loss of its vice-president of public relations. Don Perry died on Friday morning from a sudden "massive" heart attack.
Perry's death came as he was embroiled in coordinating a public relations campaign in the ongoing controversy over the company's proclaimed support for anti-gay campaign organizations.
According to The Atlanta Journal Constitution, the company said in a press release: "We are saddened to report the news to you that our dear friend Don Perry, vice president of public relations, passed away suddenly this morning. Don was a member of our Chick-fil-A family for nearly 29 years. For many of you in the media, he was the spokesperson for Chick-fil-A. He was a well-respected and well-liked media executive in the Atlanta and University of Georgia communities, and we will all miss him."
Digital Journal reports the company's president Dan Cathy, had said in an interview with the conservative Baptist Press, that the company is "guilty as charged" in support of anti-gay organizations and that he, Cathy, supports "traditional marriage" and the "biblical definition of the family unit."
Digital Journal reports Cathy said in the interview: "We don’t claim to be a Christian business. Companies are not lost or saved, but certainly individuals are but as an organisation we can operate on biblical principles."
The Daily Mail reports Perry, before his death, had issued a statement that appeared to be an attempt to soften the position Cathy had taken in the interview. Perry said Chick-fil-A would "leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena." The statement said the company was not "proactively being engaged in the dialogue" on the issue and that the company's policy was to "treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."
The company, on Wednesday, issued a statement denying allegations that it was using a fake Facebook profile to defend itself against hostile reactions to its self-proclaimed anti-gay position. There were allegations that a Facebook account with the user name "Abby Farle," that was posting statements in defense of the company had been created only few hours before and that the account used a profile picture that was found to be a stock image of a generic teenage girl. The company reacted to the allegation with a statement, saying: "Hey Fans, thanks for being supportive. There is a lot of misinformation out there. The latest is we have been accused of impersonating a teenager with a fake Facebook profile. We want you to know we would never do anything like that and this claim is 100% false. Please share this with your friends."
In spite of the apparent retraction of Cathy's "guilty as charged" statement, the company continues to face widespread condemnation and calls for boycott with the mayors of Boston and Chicago, both saying the company was not welcome in their cities. The Los Angeles Times reports that after the mayors of Boston, Chicago and San Francisco all said they were going to block Chick-fil-A from operating in their cities, New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was not going to ban the company in New York. He said: "I just don't think it's the government's business, period. This is just a bad idea, and it's not going to happen in New York City."
Steve Robinson, executive vice president of marketing at Chick-fil-A, in a statement, said: "Don was an incredible friend, a consummate PR professional, and was absolutely in love with Chick-fil-A. His passing leaves a great hole in my life as well as the lives of everyone who worked with him."
The Huffington Post reports Perry is a native of rural Valdosta, Georgia. He graduated in 1974 from the University of Georgia and joined Chick-fil-A in 1983.
According to the Daily Mail, he once said: "My expression routinely is ‘there are no dull days.' You just don't know what's going to happen moment to moment."
The Los Angeles Times reports that amid criticisms of the company, former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, showed his support by taking his children to Chick-fil-A restaurant. Digital Journal reports former Arkansas governor Mick Huckabee, proclaimed Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. According to Digital Journal, Huckabee said: “Let’s affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick-Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1."
The Daily Mail reports that critics have reacted to the news of Perry's death. The website quotes Twitter user @thesuperficial commenting: "I'm not a religious man, but I'm pretty sure this is God's way of saying, 'Knock it off.'"