Southwest Airlines holds memorial service for 'exceptionally gifted' Herb Kelleher

The Southwest Airlines family honored and remembered the man who created the airline that they now love.

There was a celebration of life ceremony held on Tuesday morning for Herb Kelleher – co-founder of the successful Dallas based airline – who passed away earlier this month at the age of 87.

Southwest Airlines employees were feeling the love for the man who revolutionized the airline industry with affordable flights. At the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, they got their chance to celebrate the life of Kelleher, who set a high bar for how to treat employees.

To Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, Kelleher was like a father to him. A father who was larger than life.

“Herb was so exceptionally gifted, but he had an even bigger heart and a love for so, so many people,” Kelly said.

Kelleher loved a drink, a smoke, but most of all, a laugh.

He even had a joke ready when a shareholder begged him to stop smoking as he battled prostate cancer.

“Would you please stop smoking, and Herb replied, ‘First of all, it is the people of Southwest Airlines who deserve all the credit, and as for the prostate cancer, I'm being successfully treated. And as for the cigarettes, don't worry, I don't smoke with my prostate,’” Kelly recalled during Tuesday’s cermony.

The packed arena of Southwest employees strolled down memory lane.

“The infamous meeting between Rollin King and Herb Kelleher that took place at the bar at the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. The one that produced the legendary napkin, took place in 1966. 53 years ago,” said Ron Ricks, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors.

They shared stories of Kelleher prevailing in the face of adversity.

“Somehow Herb got the law amended to allow limited service from Love Field,” Ricks recalled. “Our competitors rejoiced. They thought they had finally found the key to stopping Southwest’s growth. How’d that work out for them?”

Kelleher’s own family honored him with a Wild Turkey salute, while Southwest employees were loyal to him because they felt appreciated.

Matt and Talley Prebish -- a Southwest pilot and flight attendant – are living proof of Kelleher’s legacy.

“Didn't think I was going to be a flight attendant, but once I got here, and 19 years later, I'm still here,” Talley Prebish said.

“You, dear friend, were, and still are, and always will be the wind beneath our wings,” said Colleen Barrett, Southwest Airlines President Emeritus.