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Flashback Fridays: 42 Years of “The Last” Chili Cookoff

Explorer A
Chili is not taken lightly in Texas—and it’s pretty serious business at Southwest Airlines, too.  Everyone  has their own taste preference—whether mild or hot, beans or no beans!  Luckily, at Southwest’s Annual Chili Cookoff there are plentiful chili varieties to please everyone’s taste buds! So, a frequently asked question is why this terrific annual event has the words “and Last” stuck right in the middle of it…almost like finding a rock in your chili!  Well, during the planning of the first event 42 years ago, the expectation was that it would be a “one time event”  so the name was a bit of a play on that idea.  But, just like airline that kept on going, this event has grown to become one of our most loved and longest-lived Culture traditions. In fact, now the Southwest Chili Cookoff is one of the longest running annual Chili Cookoffs in the World! For those who don’t know the history, the name “XX and Last” Chili Cookoff can be misleading and confusing; when really, the purpose of the original naming has a sobering story in itself... Flashback to 1973, Southwest faced serious financial struggles.  That year, the famous “$13 Fare War” was born when Braniff offered half price tickets from Dallas to Houston, Southwest’s most profitable route.  The Fare War caused quite a stir, and despite our Employees’ hard work and enthusiasm, they were in check with the reality that Southwest might not be around the following year.  Thankfully, our maverick Employees did everything possible to overcome huge odds and Southwest did survive!  And even better,  we prospered  to now become America’s largest domestic airline, but, the Cookoff’s title of “X and Last…” stuck, and remains as a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted. A picture speaks a thousand words, and these photos tell the rich history of Chili Cookoffs throughout the years… 1The above photo is from our very “First and Last” Chili Cookoff in 1973.  Southwest Cofounder, Rollin King, was one of the judges that year and is pictured in the middle with the white hat and dark jacket.  Pictured to Rollin’s left are Provisioning Employees Ken Hargrove (currently our Amarillo Station Manager), and Steve Spurrier.  The gentleman on the far left, Hondo Grouch, was another Chili judge that year, he was the “Ambassador from Luckenbach, Texas,” and a Texas legend.  To Rollin’s right are two more judges, Charlie and Gordon Fowler, sons of the Texas Chili legend, Wick Fowler. 2 Pictured is Sandra Bogan during a Chili Cookoff in 1978.  She was our first Flight Attendant and an original Employee. 3 The above photo is from our Chili Cookoff in 1979.  Several of the Chili Cookoffs during the ‘70s seemed to have had a “Western theme.”  Pictured is Diana (last name unknown), who was a Flight Attendant, and later, a Manager in the Inflight Department.  She also became one of our Southwest LUV Couples as she married Captain Fred Hines shortly before we opened our PHX base. 4 Pictured is original Employee, Sherry Phelps, with her husband and son in 1980.  Sherry worked in the Executive Office. 5From 1980, pictured on the left is Sandra Force, one of our original five Flight Attendants.  The gentleman is Marketing Employee Rich Robertson who came up with the idea to start the Chili Cookoff! 6Fast forward to 1991 (and color photos), this, of course, is Herb being adorned by a group of female Employees. 7At the 1994 Chili Cookoff, Southwest and Morris Air Pilots presented Herb with a Harley Davidson Heritage Softail.  The motorcycle is now on display at the Frontier’s of Flight Museum in Dallas.