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Farewell to Southwest’s Founder


It is with heavy hearts that we share with you that our Founder, Inspiration, Chairman Emeritus, and Friend Herb Kelleher has passed away this morning at the age of 87. Herb is survived by his wife, Joan, three of their four children, many cherished grandchildren, and, of course, his pride and joy, the Employees of Southwest Airlines.


Born Herbert David Kelleher on March 12, 1931, and raised in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, Herb received his bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan and his law degree from New York University. He practiced law on the East Coast before relocating to Texas with plans to start his own law firm. In 1967, Herb and client Rollin King incorporated Air Southwest, Inc., with the idea of offering low-fare, intra-Texas airline service. After a name change and many legal battles valiantly fought and won by Herb, Southwest Airlines took to the skies on June 18, 1971—a date that would change each of our lives forever. Anyone in the world who has set foot on an airplane in the past 50 years has been touched by the life of Herb Kelleher. For he, with the first set of Southwest Warriors, made history when they set out to disrupt the airline industry by making flying both fun and affordable.


As we all know, Herb has played a very profound role in the life of President Emeritus Colleen Barrett. They have been a powerful pair since she became his legal secretary in 1967, and together they nurtured and groomed Southwest Airlines into one of the most admired Companies in the world. Colleen said: "He always supported me and always treated me as his complete equal. His generosity and inclusion from the very beginning allowed me opportunities and experiences that have been my guiding lights."


Southwest CEO Gary Kelly’s life is another one of the many lives that Herb touched, and he had this to say about his lifelong mentor and friend: “One of the greatest joys of my life has been working alongside Herb for more than 30 years. His stamp on the airline industry cannot be overstated. His vision for making air travel affordable for all revolutionized the industry, and you can still see that transformation taking place today. But his legacy extends far beyond our industry and far beyond the world of entrepreneurship. His true impact can only be accurately measured by the hearts and minds of the People who he inspired, motivated, and engaged on a daily basis. And that, I believe, cannot be measured or quantified—but it is to be admired and appreciated by all who have been fortunate enough to experience it. I consider myself blessed to be one of those People.”


Herb served as Southwest Airlines Executive Chairman from March 1978 to May 2008 and as President and CEO from September 1981 through June 2001.  Fortune magazine, which consistently recognizes Southwest among the world¹s top 10 most admired companies, called Kelleher perhaps the Best CEO in America.

Kelleher himself received numerous awards and honors, including the U. S. Chamber Business  Leadership Hall of Fame; CEO of the Year and one of history¹s top three CEOs, Chief Executive magazine; CEO of the Century, Texas Monthly magazine; National Sales and Marketing Hall of Fame; CEO of the Decade-Airline Industry; Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy; Bower Award for Business Leadership, Franklin Institute; Tony Jannus Award; Wings Club Distinguished Achievement Award; San Diego Aerospace Hall of Fame; L. Welch Pogue Award for Lifetime Achievement in Aviation, Aviation Week; Airline Business Award, Airline Business magazine; History Making Texan Award; the Business Halls of Fame of the State of Texas, the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and the City of Dallas; the Herbert D. Kelleher Servant Leader Scholarship, named in Herb¹s honor by the Austin Business Travel Association; induction into the Texas Labor Management Hall of Fame; Transportation Research Forum President¹s Award; induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame; induction into the Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine, Wright Brothers National Memorial; recipient of the Department of Homeland Security Distinguished Public Service Medal; an honorary lifetime member of the Transport Workers Union; recipient of full page USA Today "Thank You Herb!" ad from Southwest¹s Pilots union; inducted into the AAF Tenth District Southwest Advertising Hall of Fame; the Joseph T. Nall Safety Award, NTSB Bar Association; the Murphy Award for Lifetime Achievement, University of North Texas; Ronald McDonald House Charities Award of Excellence; inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame, and, was inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame and the Entrepreneurs For North Texas’ Ring of Entrepreneurs.


Herb was a Freedom Fighter. He revolutionized the skies. He blazed a trail of low fares and exemplary Customer Service in an industry ruled by just the opposite. Herb was a Pioneer. A Maverick. An Innovator. He celebrated and exemplified the esprit de corps of the Southwest People with such vigor that the spirit has grown exponentially. Herb knew all along that “The business of business is People”—yesterday, today, and forever. Herb decided long ago that our internal Customers, our Employees, would come first.


Herb has been quoted as saying, “It is my practice to try to understand how valuable something is by trying to imagine myself without it.” We now have to imagine ourselves without Herb. Our Founding Father has passed on, but the legacy that he has left to each of us is still very much alive. Southwest will grieve as Families do, but we know he’d want us to laugh through our tears.


We miss you already, Herbie.

Active Member

What a legacy he left with Southwest Airlines.  Rest In Peace and my thoughts are with his family.

New Arrival

Herb was my HERO! As a pilot for Southwest for 35 years I saw him mold this company into the finest airline the world has ever seen. Rest in Peace my friend. Pete

New Arrival

Heartbroken to hear this news today. Herb was a friend, a mentor, a supporter, a sounding board, and a never-ending source of surprise and laughter. Oh and yeah, he did all that important CEO stuff too. 🙂 #LoveyouHerb. #MissyouHerb. #ThankyouHerb. 

New Arrival

We have lost a good person and an industry icon. Smiley Sad

New Arrival

Herb started a fight for freedom in Texas. What he and the people of Southwest brought was a freedom for the entire country. There will be no other like Herb. 

New Arrival

Herb was the most amazing man to work/play with.  For 24 years, I was a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines under Herb’s wing.  It was the best excuse to not grow up, but to enjoy each moment of every day.  He valued each of his employees, remembering not only their name but the person and who they were. He allowed his employees to have fun as they “worked” knowing this additude was contagious and would be passed along to the passengers. How many times we played which passenger had the biggest hole in their sock, or  which side of the plane could pass back the roll of toilet paper intact first.  He taught us to laugh in the face of adversity, knowing the good guy will always win.  Herb, your won the big one, bringing in a home run for all of us.  Thank you.

New Arrival

Like many, Herb was one of my business heros. We met for the first time in the old Nashville Convention Center, not long after Southwest began its Nashville station. We spoke for maybe 10 minutes, before it was apparent he needed to get back to the hosts.  What a gentleman!  What a unique leader!  Though our paths crossed seldomly, Herb did not forget me and I will never forget him and what I learned from his leadership skills. Thank you, Herb!

New Arrival

As a wife of a SWA Dispatcher, I am so very saddened at Herb's passing, I have said prayers all day for our Southwest Family, Herb's wife, children, grandchildren and other relatives.

What a wonderful place our world is because of Herb.


Top Contributor

My thoughts are with Herb's family. Herb you will Truly be missed! Rest In Peace!

New Arrival

Our family loves Southwest Airlines. We flew twice today on SWA - from Phoenix to Albuquerque to Kansas City. This news reached us on these flights today, the day of his passing. We honor Herb Kelleher and appreciate the company he founded. 

New Arrival

Herb was a true pioneer.  I don't know if we will ever have another one like him.

New Arrival

I remember seeing Herb helping unload bags from the planes or unloading them from the cart into the baggage claim bins at Love of many encounters I have had with Herb through the years. I have been a fanatical supporter of Southwest Airlines & fan of Herb since the early 1970's. My affection for him and this company will be forever enduring

God Bless Herb Kelleher!

New Arrival

God Bless Herb Kelleher!

Thank you for giving us wings to fly!

New Arrival

I am very saddened by the passing of a great man and leader. I worked for you Herb in the 90's and was perhaps the best experience of my life. I learned alot from you Herb and have taken your approach to the many things that I do today and I along with many have been blessed to know and have you in our lives you will be truly missed rest easy Herb and thank you for all that you have done.

New Arrival

My sincere condolences to the Southwest Airlines family.  I am very saddened to hear of Herb Kelleher's passing, but I am heartened to know that his spirit lives on, strong and proud, in the wonderful culture he built within this great airline.

New Arrival

Herb, thank you for the laughs, hugs and the profound impact you had on my own leadership style!

Rising Star

I love that he had such a personal impact on my family.  SW suits our travel needs better than any other airline, and I love that we frequently get to experience the culture he created!  


If you haven't heard it before, check out Herb's talk on the How I Built This podcast!

New Arrival

Rest in peace Herb. We never met but I've always respected you as a professional and business leader. Your commitment to putting employees first (and not the customer) has always set you apart from other business leaders. Southwest is always my first choice for flying whenever possible, because you inspired your people to do things a little differently. As a company that never sits still, I'm excited to see that Southwest will be flying to Hawaii / Maui soon!

New Arrival

Herb and Colleen.

Spirit and Soul.

Inspiration and Blessing. 



Active Member

I never had the honor of meeting him, but that doesn't mean I can't miss him. Smiley Sad

Paul In CRP

New Arrival

Herb, best Leader of all: out of sight but forever and ever in our HEARTS!!!

Rest In Peace and keep watching over us from that cloud up in the skies......

New Arrival

I was very fortunate to have had several assignments over the years to photograph Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines...When most all CEO's would give me minutes to complete a shoot, Herb was ALWAYS most gracious and allowed me and my team as much time needed, and more, for each shoot. Great sense of humor...Great man. RIP Herb. "You are now free to move about the Heavens".

New Arrival

Fly High, Herb.  You will be missed. I worked in LR, but everytime I went to HDQ or to a barbeque, you remembered my name. You always impressed me and made me and all of us feel like valued employees. 

Many prayers for your family, immediate and Southwest family.

LUV you,

Lynda Staton

New Arrival

Great post Linda. Do you remember who Herb arm wrestled to settle some issue years ago, as well as what the issue was they were trying to solve?


Rob Mark

New Arrival

I just wanted to share sincere condolences with the Family of Herb Kelleher, i.e. the SWA family.  I briefly worked with Herb (and other aviation leaders) on a project in the early 1990's.  Herb was a joy.  He always kept the focus on the big picture while others got lost in petty arguments and details.  He built the greatest airline organization in the world.  Herb also never lost sight on the need to have fun!  We are all poorer upon Herb's passing.


Howard Park

Washington, DC

New Arrival

A true industry icon and a wonderful person! I had the pleasure to meet Herb at Love Field many years ago and that brief meeting left a lasting impression! I’ll raise my glass to Herb on my next flight! 

New Arrival

There'll never be another. What a legacy he left.

New Arrival

I have been flying with Southwest since its first year. First flight was from Love Field to San Antonio and back to visit a customer. Walking out the ramp I was handed a fifth of Wild Turkey by none other that Herb himself. Being a Scotch drinker I unfortunately gave it away. A few years later I was on a flight where he was  helping the crew clean up the plane.

An amazing man who created an amazing aairline.

I wish him a great, beautifu and Blessed journey.