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Posted at 1:59 PM ET, 01/ 6/2011

Donald Tyson dies: Retired poultry company executive was 80

By Emma Brown
Emma Brown

Donald Tyson, who built his family's business into a poultry-producing behemoth, has died. Besides producing meat for TV dinners and McDonald's Chicken McNuggets, Tyson Foods was known in Washington for giving illegal gifts to Clinton-era agriculture secretary Mike Espy. In 1997, the company was fined $4 million after pleading guilty to a related charge. The company paid an additional $2 million to cover the cost of the government's investigation.

According to Washington Post reports at the time, prosecutors in the case argued that Tyson Foods had been seeking to convince Espy to help derail new Agriculture Department regulations on poultry and meat products.

The Associated Press has published an obituary, below. The Post's obituary is on the way.

tyson.jpg

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Former Tyson Foods Inc. chief executive Donald J. Tyson, who led the poultry company to dominance in the industry, died Thursday at age 80.

Company spokesman Gary Mickelson said Mr. Tyson died from complications from cancer, and passed away at home with his family.

Mr. Tyson joined the business his father founded in 1952 and became its president in 1966. The company became the world's largest poultry producer under his leadership, when it bought Holly Farms in 1989. Mr. Tyson retired as senior chairman of the Springdale-based company in 2001.

The former executive was recognized for his "no bad days" outlook and "was known by all to work hard, but also to play hard," the company said in a statement announcing Mr. Tyson's death.

Mr. Tyson was fined $700,000 by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2005 and Tyson Foods paid $1.5 million to settle an investigation into lavish spending of company money between 1997 and 2001.

The SEC found that he used $3 million in company funds to pay for vacation properties in England and Mexico, and items that ranged from jewelry and artwork to a horse and clothing, all improperly documented in company regulatory filings.

Tyson Foods Inc. was founded by Don Tyson's father, John Tyson, in the early 1930s. Don Tyson added the titles of chairman and chief executive officer in 1967, the same year his father was killed in a car-train accident. He left the daily operation of the company in 1995 but remained chairman, when Leland Tollett became CEO.

Under Don's son, John R. Tyson, the company became the leading meat company with its purchase of IBP Inc. in 2001.

The Stephens Media Group first reported Mr. Tyson's death.

A private service for family is planned, and the company said a public memorial will be scheduled later.

-- Chuck Bartels for The Associated Press (Photo: AP)

By Emma Brown  | January 6, 2011; 1:59 PM ET
Categories:  Emma Brown  
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