WASHINGTON — The chief spokesman of Chick-fil-A died Friday, the family-owned US fast food chain said as it weathers a national firestorm over its opposition to same-sex marriage.
"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," said Chick-fil-A said in a statement.
"Don was a member of our Chick-fil-A family for nearly 29 years... We will all miss him," it said. Perry's age and cause of death were not disclosed.
Chick-fil-A, with more than 1,600 outlets mainly in the southern United States, has become the target of gay rights activists and their allies after president Dan Cathy came out against same-sex marriage last week.
Cathy said the United States -- where President Barack Obama supports marriage equality, and Republican rival Mitt Romney does not -- is "inviting God's judgment... when we shake a fist at Him" and legalize same-sex marriages.
Chick-fil-A is famous for its Bible Belt principles -- it never opens on Sundays -- but gay activists, citing tax records, allege it has given millions of dollars to conservative groups that lobby against marriage equality laws.
Supporters of traditional marriage plan to flock to Chick-fil-A outlets on Wednesday in a sign of solidarity, while those who back marriage equality have called for a same-sex "kiss-in" at all the chains' locations next Friday.
In an interview in June with the alumni magazine of his alma mater, the University of Georgia, Perry said he was hired by Chick-fil-A in 1983 as its first public relations specialist as the chain sought to grow nationwide.
"We've seen Chick-fil-A certainly grow up and progress over the years, but now we're into the phase of doing all the right things for the reputation management of that brand," Perry told the magazine.
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