CHICAGO – Don Tyson, former chairman of Tyson Foods Inc., was honored on April 15 with the American Meat Institute’s highest award — the Industry Advancement Award. The award was accepted on his behalf by Tyson Foods during the American Meat Institute Annual Awards Presentation and Breakfast at the 2011 International Meat, Poultry and Seafood Convention and Exposition at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

Tyson died in January at the age of 80 after a battle with cancer. Dennis Vignieri, AMI chairman and president of Kenosha Beef International, said he left an indelible mark on the meat industry. Tyson was among the individuals whose drive and innovation helped to transform the US meat and poultry industry from its former commodity mindset to its laser focus on the consumer and the importance of meeting their ever-changing needs and expectations, Vignieri said.

Although Tyson was born during the Great Depression and entered the workforce during World War II, he embodied a persistent, positive spirit that was characterized by his personal mantra, “I refuse to have a bad day.”

At the age of 14, he entered the family chicken business as a chicken catcher. He worked his way up the corporate ranks, becoming the company’s leader in 1967 after his father’s death.

Tyson had an intuition about new products, like the Rock Cornish hen, which he persuaded his father to introduce in the early 1960s. He ultimately led the company’s expansion into other areas, such as tortillas, bakery, pork, beef and seafood. Along with his son, current Tyson Chairman John Tyson, he managed the acquisition of the meat company IBP and built a new model of diversification in the animal protein sector.

“He truly won the hearts of America’s children when his company introduced the chicken nugget — now a favorite food for children — and a few adults, too.” Vignieri said.