SPRINGDALE, Ark. – Donald “Buddy” Wray, the former president of Tyson Foods Inc. who is credited with helping the company grow into a multibillion dollar global food company, died Monday at 78.

Wray served in several executive positions over decades with Tyson Foods, including chief operating officer. John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, called Wray a legend.

“He was instrumental in everything the company did for over 50 years,” Tyson said. “There is no way to express what Buddy meant to the company and thousands of its team members during that time. He was also a long-time dedicated Springdale community leader who will be missed by many and long remembered.”

Tyson CEO Donnie Smith said Wray was his mentor and that he will miss his leadership, insight and friendship. “He earned the gratitude and respect of all of us here at Tyson Foods and we will never forget him,” Smith said.

Wray began at Tyson in 1961 as field service representative working with growers after earning a bachelor’s degree in science in animal husbandry from the University of Arkansas in 1959. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Wray initially retired in 2000 after serving as president of Tyson for nine years but was asked to return to the company in 2008. Wray then served as executive vice president before retiring again in 2014.

Wray was inducted into the UA Sam M. Walton College of Business’ Arkansas Business Hall of Fame last year. In his induction biography, Wray said he was fortunate to go to work at a small, growing company, and “lucky to be in the right place at the right time with the right product.”