Don Perry, the long-time head of Chick-fil-A's public relations department, died unexpectedly on Friday, the company said, even as the fast food chain tried to negotiate a PR firestorm over its president's recent comments on gay marriage.
The Atlanta-based chain did not give a cause of death for Perry. Local media, citing Chick-fil-A franchise owners, said Perry had suffered a heart attack.
"Don was a member of our Chick-fil-A family for nearly 29 years," the company said in a statement. "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."
Chick-fil-A has been in the center of a media storm after remarks by its president, Dan Cathy, earlier this month.
Cathy, son of Chick-fil-A's founder and current chairman, told an online religious newspaper that he supports "the biblical definition of the family unit" and that supporters of gay marriage were "arrogant."
Various politicians jumped on the comment. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote a sharply worded letter to Dan Cathy, suggesting the company was not welcome in the city.
It has been a rare time in the spotlight for the privately owned chain, which has some 1,600 restaurants around the country selling popular fried-chicken sandwiches, waffle fries and peach milkshakes.
Perry, a native of rural Valdosta, Georgia, and a 1974 graduate of the University of Georgia, joined Chick-fil-A in 1983 to launch the public relations department at the growing company.
"My expression routinely is ‘there are no dull days,'" he told alumni publication Georgia Magazine in a profile published in June. "You just don't know what's going to happen moment to moment."
(Reporting by Ros Krasny in Boston; editing by Matthew Lewis)