Herb Kelleher, a co-founder and former CEO of the Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, has died, the company announced.
Kelleher was 87.
In a statement, Southwest Airlines said: “We are deeply saddened to share that Southwest Airlines Founder and Chairman Emeritus Herbert D. Kelleher passed away today at the age of 87.”
“Herb was a pioneer, a maverick, and an innovator,” the statement said. “His vision revolutionized commercial aviation and democratized the skies. Herb’s passion, zest for life, and insatiable investment in relationships made lasting and immeasurable impressions on all who knew him and will forever be the bedrock and espirit de corps of Southwest Airlines.”
Kelleher is survived by his wife, Joan, three of their four children, many grandchildren.
He moved to Texas after receiving a law degree from New York University. He planned to open his own law firm.
In 1967, Herb and client Rollin King incorporated Air Southwest, Inc., with the idea of offering low-fare, intra-Texas airline service.
“After a name change and many legal battles valiantly fought and won by Herb, Southwest Airlines took to the skies on June 18, 1971 — a date that would change each of our lives forever,” the company said. “Anyone in the world who has set foot on an airplane in the past 50 years has been touched by the life of Herb Kelleher.”
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said, “One of the greatest joys of my life has been working alongside Herb for more than 30 years.”
“His stamp on the airline industry cannot be overstated,” Kelly continued. “His vision for making air travel affordable for all revolutionized the industry, and you can still see that transformation taking place today. But his legacy extends far beyond our industry and far beyond the world of entrepreneurship. His true impact can only be accurately measured by the hearts and minds of the people who he inspired, motivated, and engaged on a daily basis.”
Kelleher served as Southwest Airlines executive chairman from March 1978 to May 2008 and as president and CEO from September 1981 through June 2001.