Share your thoughts and memories of Don Tyson, the legendary Arkansas businessman who guided his father's company into a giant in the food industry. Tyson, the former president and chief executive officer of Tyson Foods, died Thursday morning after a battle with cancer. He was 80.
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It was in the mid 1960s when we first started a working relationship with Don, catering in both Little Rock and Hot Springs for the Annual Arkansas State Poultry Federation Convention. Don was always instrumental in bringing top entertainers for the Convention, including Porter Wagner, Dolly Parton and the Oak Ridge Boys. We all found it amusing that Don brought Merle Haggard to play at the Convention one evening following Merle’s earlier morning pardon by then Governor of California, Ronald Reagan. Don frequently sat in our kitchen at the Hot Springs Convention Center during these conventions, drinking a screwdriver and observing in admiration as we scratched Chicken Cordon Bleu. A few years later we felt complimented by Don in Tyson’s introduction of Chicken Cordon Bleu to their frozen product line.
In our forty plus years of catering, Don was one of our major customers, catering his open houses, plant openings, birthday parties and political relations.
We remember one of Don’s unique business meetings. He hired a special train out of Missouri to bring a group from Washington DC to Burgman, AR. At the Burgman depot stop, we had tables covered with white linens, roses and specialty dishes of chicken that required us to hire an eloquent cuisine chef to prepare the main dishes. When the group stepped off the train, we had arranged as a surprise even to Don for a band to play and sing the “Tyson Chicken Special” to the tune of “Orange Blossom Special”.
Don was a business man, but a generous one and he loved his country. In Morrison Bluff, AR (population 63) a Tyson by-products plant was built. With an open invitation, over 15,000 people came down the American flag lined road (150 flags every 75 feet to be exact) to enjoy food, fireworks, and skydivers at the opening of this Tyson plant.
A cherished weekend was during one on Don’s birthdays at his home in Springdale. He loved entertaining and this particular weekend celebration with close friends ended with hand cranked ice cream, one of Don’s favorite deserts.
Getting a call from Don occasionally meant an adventure for us at Woody’s Sherwood Forest, formerly Woody’s Catering Company. One example of an adventure was Don delivering the ribs for us to cook and deliver to the State House for Bill (Clinton) and special dignitaries and family when Bill accepted the nomination for President of the United States of America.
During former President Bill Clinton’s Inauguration in 1993, the weeklong celebration of balls and Inaugural Gala started at the National Building Museum with the “Absolutely Unofficial Blue Jeans Bash,” hosted by Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. All of the food was provided by Arkansas producers, including Tyson chicken and we (Woody and Bette) served as “The Unofficial Caterers” of “The Absolutely Unofficial Blue Jeans Bash” Prior to the doors opening for the bash, we peaked out the door to look at the crowd. As far as we could see, there were people. About 200 feet into the crowd I heard Don shout, “Woody. Woody, it’s Don Tyson.” I turned to Secret Service and told them, “That man is ‘Mr. Chicken’ and he needs to be in this building before the party starts.”
Don will be remembered by many and missed by even more.
Woody and Bette Woods
Woody’s Sherwood Forest
"Don Tyson, the well known titan of Industry who built a 'Mom and and Pop' Arkansas business into one of the largest purveyors of quality foods to the world will be sincerely missed by those who knew him. He had a great sense of humor, was generous and loyal with a deep affection for his friends, and a personality charged with optimism. Like Will Rogers, Don 'never met a man he couldn't like'. He was modest and never forgot where he was from. He was compassionate and fair. Arkansas, which he dearly loved, has lost one of it's greatest sons.
Former Chief of Staff, Senator J. W. Fulbright
"My brother, Bruce Reed, and Don Tyson were classmates at Central Elementary School on US Highway 71 which ran through town at that time. Bruce likes to tell the story about Don Tyson always wanting to borrow his bike when they were in the 6th grade. Bruce was probably the last in his class to get a bicycle, and when he finally got it, he was able to get one with a 3-gear gearshift, the first one in town. Tyson claimed the use of this bike at almost every recess and noon hour. He would ride out onto the highway alongside the big trucks coming through town, and with a grand pretentious display operate the gear shift back and forth and yell "Vroom, vroom" to play like he, too, was a big rig driver. While others remember him for his corporate prowess, this is how Bruce remembers Don Tyson."
"Don Tyson was a business giant who helped put Arkansas on the world map for poultry and food production. As he reached higher and higher levels of success, he never forgot where he came from, remaining a life-long Arkansan and generously giving back to his community and our State. Don will be greatly missed."
“Don Tyson was a savvy businessman who not only helped grow the family business but changed how the food industry operates. Known for his optimistic outlook, his revolutionary approach to business made Tyson’s a household name. He was a true visionary who undoubtedly left a lasting mark on Arkansas.”
"I have many fond memories of Don Tyson, and I will miss his friendship, spirit, and passion for the outdoors. Don never forgot where he came from, including the hard work and principles that made him a business legend. His success and leadership was a springboard for our state’s economy, and his philanthropy will continue to lift up Arkansans in countless ways.
"My prayers and thoughts go out to his family and friends during this difficult time."
"I am saddened to learn of the passing of Don Tyson. He built a multi-billion dollar international company – employing thousands - out of a small family business in northwest Arkansas. His business success and record of philanthropy in Arkansas are legendary. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Tyson family today."
2nd District Congressman
"It is with great sadness I report today the death of Don Tyson, former Chairman and CEO of Tyson Foods and a leading member of our company's board of directors. Don passed away this morning at the age of 80 after a brief illness.
"As noted in the obituary that follows, Don was known by all to work hard, but also to play hard. He was famous the world over for his 'No Bad Days' outlook on life, and well known for telling everyone that 'I don't have time to have a bad time.' Don's passing will be mourned by all who knew him, especially his family, his countless friends, and business leaders and associates in Arkansas, across the country and around the world."
Tyson President and CEO