Don Perry, VP of public relations for Chick-fil-A died on Friday, July 27, 2012 (NBC)
ATLANTA -- Donald Perry, Chick-fil-A's longtime Vice-President of Public Relations, died Friday morning, the company said in a statement.
Perry's death was sudden, leaving the company without its chief spokesman amid a major marketing crisis for the restaurant chain. Perry was 60 years old.
"Don was a member of our Chick-fil-A family for nearly 29 years," the statement read. "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."
Perry joined Chick-fil-A in 1983 as its manager of corporate public relations.
Public relations professor and Chick-fil-A consultant Ken Bernhardt worked closely with Perry for nearly three decades.
"Don helped build Chick-fil-A to the company that it was now," he said. "It was a very small company when he joined 29 years ago and a big part of their growth was through a lot of the things that he did."
Chick-fil-A has come under fire from some patrons and politicians over company President Dan Cathy's public support for traditional marriage and the "biblical definition" of families.
There have been protests held at restaurants over what some describe as the company's "intolerance" of same-sex marriage.
Officials in Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia have threatened to ban the chain, although some have since backpedaled.
"I suspect he's been under a lot of stress with the recent media storm," Bernhardt said of his longtime friend. "But he always handled stress very well."
"Whenever an issue came up, he was at the center of it and had to represent the company. He seemed to always have a sense of humor and seemed to handle any situation really, really well," he said.
Chick-fil-A, which operates more than 1,600 restaurants in 39 states, has tried to defuse the crisis by saying they treat all customers with dignity and respect and intend to leave the same-sex marriage debate in the political arena.