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SALISBURY, Md. -- Frank Perdue, the Maryland farmer who revolutionized the American poultry industry with the introduction of his brand-name chickens, transforming a backyard egg business into one of the nation's largest food companies, died March 31, 2005 after a brief illness. He was 84.
At the time of his death, Perdue was chairman of the executive committee of the board of directors of Perdue Farms, Inc., headquartered in Salisbury, Md.
Perdue, a well-known industry and public figure, was among the first chief executives to become famous as a company pitchman. He appeared in approximately 200 television commercials, in addition to radio and print ads, between 1971 and 1994, until his son, James "Jim" Perdue, chairman of the board of Perdue Farms, succeeded him.
Frank Perdue is especially renowned for creating one of modern advertising's most memorable lines, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken." He attributed his success to determination, hard work, honest dealings, innovative marketing, and what was said to be an obsession with quality.
Perdue's father, Arthur W. Perdue, started the family business in 1920, raising chickens for eggs. Perdue and his father switched the business from eggs to chickens in the 1940s and broke into retail sales in 1968.
Born in Salisbury in 1920, the only child of older parents, Perdue spent much of his time working on the family egg farm. He graduated from Salisbury State Teachers College in 1939 and maintained an abiding loyalty to his hometown throughout his life. He was heavily involved in civic activities and gave an endowment to his alma mater, now Salisbury State University, to establish the Perdue School of Business.
Perdue is survived by his third wife, Mitzi Ayala Perdue, four children, two stepchildren and 12 grandchildren.
"Frank Perdue was a giant in the chicken industry," said National Chicken Council president George Watts. "With his strong commitment to quality, reliance on a brand name, and aggressive marketing and advertising, Perdue was a leader in revolutionizing the way chicken is raised and sold, and had a lasting impact on the American diet. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and his associates."
Perdue was among the "Broiler Industry Pioneers" who were honored at the National Chicken Council's 50th anniversary annual conference last October, noted Watts, adding, "We were grateful that he was able to attend and are saddened by his passing."