I had one of those experiences the weekend before last. An experience that you couldn’t plan if you tried, but one that means so much that it is hard to put in to words.
It wasn’t the happiest of circumstances, as this particular experience took place at a memorial service for a Coworker. But keep reading and you will hopefully gain a little insight in to why folks who work at Southwest Airlines feel the way we do about our Company.
Kaye Kelly worked in the Executive Office of Southwest Airlines for ten years. Over those years, she became a Friend and a Family Member, even a “mom,” to everyone she came in contact with. Her smile and laugh lit up a room and we can all only wish to live our lives the way Kaye did. Recently, Kaye lost her two-year battle with cancer.
It had been a tough battle for our Kaye. We saw her through good days and bad, sending recipes and videos, cards and funny pictures to help her the only way we knew how—by showering her with LUV. Although I never worked with her in the office, I got to spend time with Kaye last September as our Team had the honor of taking delivery of a brand new plane from the Boeing plant in Seattle. I will always remember Kaye laughing at all the “kids” acting a fool at the bar at the W hotel, and I don’t think any of us could ever forget Kaye dancing in the center aisle of the plane on our trip home—thankfully, we have some wonderful video of that!
There was no memo that went out making attendance at her memorial service mandatory; there was never even a “well, it would be really nice if you could go”—it wasn’t necessary. The chapel was almost full, and I think it is safe to say that most of the guests were Kaye’s Family Members from Southwest Airlines. It was amazing to look around and see Coworkers that I almost never see outside the office, and even more amazing to see folks who don’t even work at SWA anymore sitting there, just part of the Family, like they always will be. That is how much Kaye touched us.
Shortly after the service started, A SWA Coworker sang a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace. Then the ministers spoke about Kaye, things we knew and didn’t know, but mainly about her huge heart. They also shared some things that Kaye had asked them to, and here is where the LUV truly shined through. Kaye had specific messages for the special People in her life, including her Family at SWA. She wanted us to know that her time at SWA was the best job she ever had, and that our deliveries of LUV during her illness truly brightened her SPIRIT. She also wanted to make sure that, just like always, we turned the day into a party, and after the service we were to go directly to Tupinamba (a local Mexican restaurant) for margaritas, her favorite. (Boy, did she know her Coworkers!)
So while this story may sound sad, it really isn’t. Kaye lived her life to the fullest, and touched so many of us along the way. The amazing thing about this is the bond that Southwest Employees share. I know that the folks who couldn’t make the service wanted to be there, and everyone who was there-- and of course drinking margaritas after the service-- were truly happy to be there to celebrate the life of their sister, Kaye.
I always try to explain the SWA phenomenon to “outsiders”, and I know I am not the only one. We couldn’t make up a story like what happened on this weekend, and it is hard to even get the point across to you now. But what I hope you have learned is that, at Southwest Airlines, our Coworkers are more than just the People you see in the office from 8:00am-5:00pm Monday through Friday, they are our Friends, our support system, our comic relief, and, most importantly, Members of our Family.
Kaye’s husband Doug sent an e-mail today, thanking us for everything we have done for the family, and I think he said it best when he wrote, “Southwest has a heart in its logo....but it is not nearly large enough to show the actual SPIRIT that is within the Employees…”
I agree with Doug, and would bet everyone that works at SWA will as well.
We all LUV Kaye and will miss her dearly, but we can all rest assured that she will always be a part of our Southwest Family; she has only changed her wings!