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For Whom the Cowbells Toll

Explorer C

Our salute to Colleen winds down today, and Tonda explains the significance of the cowbell. 

The clamoring of cowbells is not what you would expect to hear in the lobby of a Fortune 500 company; but then again, Southwest Airlines is famous for doing the unexpected!  The ringing of cowbells has become a popular tradition to cheer on athletes.  Yesterday, hundreds of Southwest Employees gathered to cheer not for an athlete, but for someone we affectionately call our “Queen of Hearts.”

On this day, Colleen Barrett relinquished her President’s title, and the Employees wanted to honor her in a very meaningful way.  So, why the cheerful clamor of cowbells you ask?  It’s actually a tradition that dates back to Colleen’s childhood in Bellows Falls, Vermont.  Her mother used to ring “this darn cowbell,” as Colleen would say, when she or her brothers accomplished something special or celebrated a certain event.  The distinctive sound of that “darn cowbell” marked many milestones.

The family home was later destroyed by fire, and they all searched and searched to find that cowbell which brought back memories of happier times.  The cowbell did, indeed, survive the fire, as did Colleen, her mother, and her brothers.  It was definitely a moment that deserved the clamor of the cowbell.

Now fast forward several decades to a black tie event in Tampa honoring the recipient of the Tony Jannus Award.  For 45 years, this award has recognized extraordinary accomplishments in the field of commercial aviation. The award is named in honor of the pilot of the first commercial airline flight, which flew from St. Petersburg to Tampa in 1914.  On this particular night in October 2007, Colleen became the first female to receive this prestigious award.  And do you know what Colleen heard as she stepped upon the stage to receive her award?  You guessed it—the cheerful clamor of that darn cowbell!  One of Colleen’s brothers was in attendance with other members of the family, and they all rose and proudly rang those cowbells.  Colleen told the crowd in attendance about the significance of that cowbell, and how when her mother died that the cowbell was the one thing she and her surviving brother fought over.

As Colleen’s Southwest Family gathered in Corporate Headquarters on her last official day as President, we wanted to celebrate this great milestone in her life just the way her mother would have wanted.  So from the 34,000 Southwest Family Members, we say, “Job well done, Colleen Barrett.”  See you tomorrow!