‘By Her Very Presence, She Taught’: The Woman Behind the Chick-Fil-A Legacy


Trudy Cathy White shares behind the scene stories of the Cathy family—founders of Chick-Fil-A—and how her mother played a key role in the family business.

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Trudy Cathy White

My friend Julie Cook recently talked to me about what it was like growing up as one of “Mrs. Cathy’s girls.” That’s what people in the church called mom’s class members. Julie teared up a few times while talking about my mother. I know how she feels; it’s often hard for me to talk about Mom without feeling her absence now that she’s gone. Still, we had a great time catching up and talking about this woman who meant so much to so many young ladies. I know what it’s like to be Jeannette Cathy’s daughter, of course, but I really wanted to hear how one of her students experienced her. I wanted to get a real-world, first-person look into how my mother spoke to and encouraged these girls. Julie was more than willing to share. 

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Julie says. “Coming into her Sunday School class, sitting under her teaching…she sparked in me a love and reverence for God’s Word. I didn’t find out until later that she had attended seminary. As far as I knew, she was just my Sunday School teacher. But, by her very presence, she taught respect for the Word.”

I know exactly what Julie means. My mother radiated a reverence for scripture. She absolutely loved absorbing the Word throughout her life. Looking back, the most enduring memory I have of my mother is seeing her at the little kitchen table in her gleaming white kitchen, crouched over her well-worn Bible and Sunday School lesson materials. I simply cannot think about my mother without seeing her hunched over a Bible. And, when she wasn’t pouring scripture into herself, she was pouring it out to others. God’s Word flowed freely in her speech. It was as though a lifetime of Bible study drenched every word she spoke in the joy and power of God’s Word. I love knowing that the girls in her class got to see that just as clearly as I did. 

“I was never late for her Sunday School class, and I always prepared ahead of time earlier in the week,” Julie continues. “I don’t think I ever had a teacher that got that level of commitment from me. No one had ever expected that much out of me before. But Mrs. Cathy didn’t treat us like children; she treated us like the young ladies we were becoming. She had high expectations for us, and she made us want to grow to meet them. 

“There was such a tenderness in her walk with God,” she recalls. “You know, in the corporate world and even in the church world, we hear a lot about raising up leaders. That’s great, and the world needs Godly leaders, but that wasn’t Mrs. Cathy’s calling. She was more concerned about raising up a generation of Godly servants. She was very intentional about teaching us how to serve other people, how to love and how to give of ourselves. I mean, how many leadership conferences do you hear about all the time? But when was the last time you got an email about a servanthood conference? That’s where Mrs. Cathy would shine.

“There she was. She was married to Truett Cathy and they were building a huge, successful company. She could have spent her time anywhere, doing anything she wanted. She could have spent every weekend at a big country club if she wanted to! But that wasn’t her. Instead, she chose to meet weekly with a group of eighth-grade girls and she went out of her way to keep up with what each one of us was doing, what was going on in our lives and how we were growing in the Lord long after we left her class. She didn’t have time for the country club; she was too busy investing in the next generation of young women.”