Friends, family and thousands of Southwest Airlines employees filled the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas Tuesday morning to remember Herb Kelleher. He was the co-founder of the Dallas-based airline who died earlier this month. Kelleher is credited with getting low-cost flights off the ground.
But this was no mournful, melancholy memorial service. Organizers called it a celebration of life, and it truly was that – complete with a drum line. It was a celebration for a man many considered larger than life. A former Southwest executive even compared Kelleher to the Greek hero Heracles.
“Southwest was more than a job to Herb; it was his purpose and mission in life, said Kelleher’s son-in-law John Agather.
Family members joined Agather on stage and lifted small bottles of Wild Turkey – Kelleher’s favorite drink – and made a toast.
Former Southwest President Colleen Barrett was among those who knew Kelleher best. They worked together for decades.
“We were total opposites in many ways,” Barrett said.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly called Kelleher a counselor, teacher, cheerleader, father and hero. Kelly said Kelleher built a solid financial foundation for Southwest, leading to 46 consecutive years of profits, no layoffs, no furloughs and no pay cuts.
“Southwest Airlines and Herb were the archetype of today’s low-cost airlines, and because of that, now virtually everyone, not just in America but around the world, can afford to fly the skies,” Kelly said.