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Flashback Fridays: Farewell to a Friend

Retired Community Manager

In the presence of Brian Lusk, I learned a lot, and I groaned a lot. The man had a knack for knowledge, and a penchant for puns (and planes).

Mr. Lusk was the unmatched combination of a human encyclopedia, almanac, and thesaurus, all wrapped into one of the worst joke-of-the-day books I’ve ever read.

Often, Mr. Lusk would dispense my way one of his trademark puns, and delight in my agonized reaction. I wasn’t really put off. Of course, he knew that.

For how different we were, Brian and I had a lot in common.

We both graduated from SMU, and ran the radio station there. Nearly three decades separated us, but Brian often joked we were distant roommates (more like the odd couple, if you ask me). We'd been known to bust into Varsity from time to time.  At Southwest, Brian bequeathed me the management of this very blog. And although I moaned and groaned about his brand of wit, I rarely passed up spending time with him, and consider myself very lucky for having done so. I had so much more to learn from him.

Brian’s vast knowledge was outmatched only by his big heart, and I can’t recall a single moment where Brian didn’t cheer me up. I smiled even when we were driving back to Milwaukee from Oshkosh, and he fell asleep in the passenger seat, and knocked the car into manual gear-shift, and sent us into fourth gear. Not once, but twice. We very nervously laughed about it at the time.

In Brian’s galaxy of history, I was just a small star. Those are just the facts, because I never felt that way.  His LUV for aviation knew no bounds, rivaled only by his adoration for trains and, of course, for his family and friends.  If you were interacting with Brian, you had his undivided attention.

BL in Train
Brian Enjoying a Train Ride in Canada

It would take days for us all to recount our Brian stories, but here are a few from some of Brian’s closest friends and Coworkers. Let’s not stop there—please share your stories about Brian below in the comments section.

Sandy Nelson Price, Communications Specialist

When Brian and I met in 1997, we immediately clicked—he and I had started at Southwest two years earlier, only about two weeks apart; we had both had previous airline careers—his with Delta, mine with Braniff; we both loved the airline industry; we shared a love of language—both written and spoken; and then, there was the humor.  I’m sure I could go on forever on how brilliant Brian was and how vast his knowledge of all things aviation, but right now, it’s just going to be about the funny (okay, okay, punny) and creative guy I always called BL.

Everyone knows what a truly unique holiday Halloween is at Southwest, and if you’ve ever been to Halloween at HDQ, you’ve probably seen Brian in a variety of roles and costumes.

Southwest Airlines Halloween (Executive Office)

Brian and I collaborated on a number of Halloween skits/shows while working together in the Executive Office.  I have fond memories of seeing (and hearing) him gargle an entire song while dressed in a yellow rain slicker; watching him stroke a bald cat as Dr. Evil; enjoying his somewhat macabre rendition of the narrator in The Rocky Horror Airport Experience; and representing “Dullta” Air Lines in MDW, the Musical.  But a performance that will stay with me forever (and still brings a smile to my heart) was his (and four other intrepid Southwest guys’) appearance in The Full Freedom Monty, complete with black bomber jackets, pilots’ caps, and yes, even the hilarious foam-rubber bare chests.   To say that watching five guys (with rhythm enough between them to equal maybe one amateur dancer) practice a mild “bump and grind” move was a sidesplitting experience cannot come close to the hilarity that ensued every time they performed their routine.

As you might imagine, Brian’s theatrical inclinations not only allowed him to become many different characters, but also provided him with opportunities to let his penchant for accents to shine through.   Rarely was a phone call from my phone to his not answered with,   “Jerry Lundegaard here,” in his very best Fargo inflection.  I would always reply, “Have you had any cars go missing off your lot?" (or “any planes go missing off your tarmac,” depending on my mood) in my very best Marge Gunderson voice.  We’d continue in that vein for a minute or so, before getting down to business, and, strange as it may seem, those conversations will be part of what I miss the most about Brian: his reliable, unique, and always welcomed sense of humor.

Brian and Sandy
Brian and Sandy Nelson Price

Love you, BL!

Jon Shubert, Sr. Project Lead

Some of us come to the airline industry and learn to appreciate its wonderment, and some, like Brian, have been fascinated with it from birth. And that was one of the most endearing things about Brian—his love of all things “airline.” I knew this, and had experienced his wide-eyed enthusiasm for airline facts, history, and trivia many times. But nothing drove it home for me more acutely than a flight we took to Atlanta on one of our AirTran Integration Team trips—and I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before on the many other flights we’ve taken together. We deplaned in Atlanta, and he took a sharp left out of the jetbridge, walked over to the gate window, and began writing on a notepad. I stopped to wait for him, and when he caught up with me, I asked him what was up. With a radiant look on his face—you’ve seen it many times too—he proudly told me that he was recording the tail number of the plane, the mileage of the flight, the city pairs…  I didn’t hear anything else he said after that because I was so distracted by the awe of how much he loved—LOVED—airplanes.  I’ll for sure miss him, for that and many, many other things.

Brian and Jon
Jon Shubert (left) and Sonia Avila (center) with Brian at the Frontiers of Flight Museum

Have a nice flight, Brian.

Dan Johnson, Dispatch ATC Specialist & Original Southwest Employee

I was contacted at home and advised that Brian Lusk had passed away. I am so grateful I did not hear about it in an email, that someone cared enough to call me directly.

I just saw him in the hallways last week, he seemed a little weak now that I think about it, but we all may seem weary from the daily battle.

Brian had a small ‘open house’ in one of the training rooms some time ago, displaying artifacts from SWA’s past. I went because I wanted to meet this guy that was writing about the history of my Company. Writing about things I had lived and worked and laughed and worried about, he rekindled those times for me in his Flashback Fridays. He brought to life events I thought I had long forgotten and was now reading and laughing about how crazy we were “back in the day”.

I didn’t know Brian on a deep personal level, but knew him well from the numerous emails we exchanged about “any idea who this is?” "Dan do you recognize this picture, this station, these folks? What the heck is this?"  When I didn’t know or wasn’t sure, I gave him other Employees still working here who might know the answer.

What I enjoyed the most was his writing and passion and the comments from Employees so grateful to learn about how SWA got from three planes to where we are today. So many Employees commented on so many of his posts I often wondered if he knew just how much he was appreciated.  I certainly hope so.

The stories and information about our past, the history lessons, it was almost like he was teaching a class on Southwest. He was teaching how to appreciate what we have by reveling what it took to get to where we are today.

Brian will be sorely missed; I will miss his emails, and certainly the history lessons in Flashback Friday.

How do you replace a gem like Brian Lusk?

Rest in Peace, Brian.

Dan Johnson #135

Kim Seale, Senior Representative, Customer Relations & Rapid Rewards

How do you write about someone who was a legend to everyone but himself? Some of us are blessed in life to know a few special people who are humble enough that they fail to realize what an impact they’ve made on others. Brian Lusk was just that type of person. I suspect that Brian was much like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, as he went about his life at Southwest Airlines, helping others, being a friend, and sharing his Company Spirit with everyone, completely oblivious to what a huge difference he was making. His knowledge of aviation lore, aircraft details, and the history of every air carrier was encyclopedic in scope; so his transition to the role of Corporate Historian at Southwest was a perfect fit.

I first became acquainted with Brian in May 2006, about a month after reading a small story in the Dallas newspaper about our hometown airline starting an online blog “under the guidance of Mr. Brian Lusk.” At the time, I wasn’t even sure what a “blog” was, but with Southwest’s reputation for a Fun-LUVing Attitude, I had to find out. As a Customer since 1973, my personal and work life often connected with Southwest, so I was excited for the opportunity to connect even more closely. What started as a few swapped jokes with Brian led us to begin an electronic friendship that was deepened through our mutual delight with puns. At Brian’s offline encouragement, my contributions to the Nuts About Southwest! Blog grew in regularity and boldness, since a Customer is in the unique position of being able to defend an airline he LUVs in a way that an Employee could never say in a published forum. The Nuts! online venue expanded significantly under Brian’s Leadership, and he eventually started referring to himself as “Blog Boy.” In appreciation for my frequent and enthusiastic submissions, Brian bestowed the title of “External Blog Boy” on me, which was an honor I wore proudly. We finally met in person, and I came to HDQ for regular visits. Amazingly enough, as I approach my fifth SWAnniversary at this great Company, I still meet Employees who, upon hearing my name will say, “Wait, didn’t you used to be ‘External Blog Boy?’ I read your stuff all the time!”

After a series of corporate layoffs left many folks without a job at my former employer, Brian’s Servant’s Heart kicked into overdrive as he began working to lure me to Southwest. He encouraged me to apply, he wrote a recommendation to the People Department for me, and, knowing Brian, he personally spoke to others on my behalf. There is no doubt that Brian is a big reason that I’m privileged to be a Southwest Airlines Employee. That’s just the kind of person he was: always willing to help a friend.

Will life at Southwest continue without Brian? Absolutely. Will it be the same? Absolutely NOT. Brian has shaped this Company, our Culture, and our Employees in ways that can never be fully measured. Suffice it to say that this is a better place because of our self-professed ‘avgeek’ and that many of us have been enriched by counting him as our friend. Although Brian would not want his beLUVed airline to miss a beat, we all pause to shed a tear and say goodbye to someone who has left far sooner than we would have wished.

With a sad heart from the Employee/artist formerly known as External Blog Boy

Paula Berg, former Southwest Employee

I had the privilege of working with Brian on the Southwest blog and social media efforts from 2006-2009. We were a good team. I knew a few things about public relations and customer relations. Brian knew that and pretty much everything else.  We were yin and yang.  Actually, more like oil and water. We fought like cats and dogs – especially when it came to the Southwest blog.  We fought about what we should post, when we should post it, what it should say, who should say it. It was good for the development of the blog.  But boy could I get under his skin.  And, he could really zing me with his snarky wit. 

One day, per usual, we had been fighting over email. I had obviously written something that really set him off because within 30 seconds of hitting send, my cell phone was ringing.  I knew he was mad, so I didn’t answer. A couple of days later I arrived back at Southwest Headquarters and walked into his office.  I apologized for making him mad. He apologized for what he said on my voicemail.  I told him I had been too scared to hear it and had deleted it without listening.  He said it was “probably for the best.”  We laughed, hugged, and never fought again.

Despite our playful bickering, I genuinely loved Brian and everything he brought to the table.  He was the model of everything I loved about working at Southwest Airlines.  Aviation was in his blood, he had a sense of humor and knowledge of history similar to Herb’s, he cared about our customers, he was a storyteller, and he was fiercely protective of our company’s history and culture.

To this day, there are only four people whose tweets I have sent directly to my phone: The Wall Street Journal, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, comedian Steve Martin, and Brian Lusk. I will miss his tweets; his puns; his Flashback Fridays; his commentary of Portlandia, SNL, and other current events; and, his affectionate updates on the comfort level of his sweet Bassett Hound, Annabelle.

Annabelle the Basset Hound

Brian and Paula
Brian with former Southwest Employee Paula Berg

Love you, Brian – Paula Berg

Before we close this post with a few photos, I thought it most appropriate to end where we began. In the first ever NUTS post, Brian wrote “We look at this blog as the place where our Employees ‘come out to play,' and we hope you will join us on the playground…”

Brian sure made this space fun; it was his playground, and I’m happy he shared it with me, and so many others.

And to take a page out from our alma mater's hymn, Brian, though deeply saddened at your passing, our hearts are filled with joy.