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Donald John Tyson, known to everyone as “Don,” son of Tyson Foods, Inc. founder John W. Tyson, and father of current company chairman John H. Tyson, passed away today, January 6, 2011, at the age of 80, after a brief illness. He was the former chairman of the board and CEO of Tyson Foods, Inc., a company he led through phenomenal growth in the 1970s and 1980s.
Through most of the 1950s Don worked with his father to grow the family business, then known as Tyson Feed and Hatchery, supplying feed and baby chicks to local poultry producers in Northwest Arkansas. In 1958 the company became “vertically integrated” by building its first chicken processing plant in Springdale, with Don overseeing the construction and then becoming its first plant manager.
The company soon began to grow by acquiring other area poultry operations, and then went public with its initial public offering of stock in 1963 under the name Tyson’s Foods, Inc. This was the company name until 1972 when it was changed to Tyson Foods, Inc. The company continued to grow through the 1970s and 1980s with Don leading a series of acquisitions including Val-Mac, Lane Poultry and the 1989 purchase of Holly Farms, which more than doubled the size of the company and made it the largest poultry producer in the country.
Don moved up progressively in the company leadership, being named president in 1966, and then becoming chairman and CEO in 1967 when his father and step-mother were both tragically killed in an automobile-train accident in Springdale. He continued to serve as chairman, president and CEO until 1983 when long-time Tyson executive, Leland Tollett was named president. In 1991 the company named Tollett president and CEO with Don remaining as chairman until 1995 when he officially retired and Tollett was named chairman and CEO.
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.” He was also well known for his active involvement in state and national politics, having been led by his father to believe that it was a citizen’s duty to take part in the political and electoral process.
He was a world renowned fisherman, a founder of the Billfish Foundation that promotes the catch and release of marlin and other billfish, and was a long-time member and benefactor of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), a group that tracks and certifies world records for fishing.
Don also created and led the Tyson Family Foundation, which among other things provides scholarships for post secondary students from communities where Tyson Foods has operations. He has been a well known philanthropist in Arkansas and elsewhere, supporting countless causes, primarily in the fields of education, conservation, and the arts.
He is survived by his son, John Tyson and three daughters, Carla Tyson, Cheryl Tyson and Joslyn J. Caldwell-Tyson; his sister-in-law Barbara Tyson; as well as two grandchildren, John Randal Tyson and Olivia Laine Tyson; and, long-time friends Gloria Gray, Ramona Caldwell, Shelby Rogers and Melissa Ramsey.