(USA TODAY) - The chief spokesman for Chick-fil A died early today amid the furor sparked by his boss' biblical opposition to same-sex marriage.
The Georgia-based fast-food giant did not cite a cause of death for 60-year-old Don Perry, vice president of public relations, but local news reports said he died of a heart attack, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says. He had worked for the fast-food giant for 29 years.
"Don was a member of our Chick-fil-A family for nearly 29 years," the company said in a statement. "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. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."
In the past week, Perry found himself on the front lines of the controversy that erupted after Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy, whose father founded the business, reitereated the company's belief in "the biblical definition of the family unit." That prompted an outcry from gay-rights advocates, politicians and some businesses, but also drew praise and support from evangelical Christians and traditionalists.
Perry issued a statement last Thursday expressing the company's desire to "not proactively being engaged in the dialogue" on gay marriage.
"Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena," his statement said.
Perry noted Cathy's father's "biblically-based principles to managing his business."
"For example, we believe that closing on Sundays, operating debt-free and devoting a percentage of our profits back to our communities are what make us a stronger company and Chick-fil-A family."
"The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect - regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."
One of Perry's Chick-fil-A colleagues, Steve Robinson, the excutive vice president of marketing, 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."
Perry, who graduated with a degree in public relations from the University of Georgia, began his career with General Electric, working there until joining Chick-fil-A. He was active in the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America; was a member of the Board of Trustees for the University of Georgia Foundation since 2005; served on the editorial advisory board of the University of Georgia's Georgia Magazine and received Grady College's John Holliman Jr. Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement in Mass Media.