RIP Herb

'Maverick' founder of Texas-based Southwest Airlines dies

'Maverick' founder of Texas-based Southwest Airlines dies

Herb Kelleher
Herb Kelleher, 1931-2019. Photo courtesy of SW Airlines

Herb Kelleher, the legendary founder of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, died on January 3 at age 87.

The airline published a memorial to Kelleher on its website, calling him a freedom fighter, pioneer, maverick, and innovator who revolutionized the skies by blazing a trail of low fares and exemplary customer service.

It listed his countless achievements and awards, as well as the profound and elevating impact he had on his coworkers and as a leader of the company.

Born Herbert David Kelleher on March 12, 1931, he was raised in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, received a bachelor's degree from Wesleyan, and a 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, Kelleher and client Rollin King incorporated Air Southwest, Inc., with the idea of offering low-fare, intra-Texas airline service. Southwest Airlines took to the skies on June 18, 1971.

He served as executive chairman of the company from 1978-2008, and as president-CEO from 1981-2001.

Kelleher's numerous awards and honors include the U. S. Chamber Business  Leadership Hall of Fame, Chief Executive magazine; CEO of the Century from Texas Monthly; National Sales and Marketing Hall of Fame; a Wright Brothers Memorial; induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame; and recipient of the Department of Homeland Security Distinguished Public Service Medal.

"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,'" the memorial says. "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."

Kelleher is survived by his wife, Joan, three of their four children, and many grandchildren.

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