Southwest Airlines President Emeritus Passes Away at 79

Southwest Airlines announced today that President Emeritus Colleen Barrett has passed away at the age of 79.

a plane on the tarmac
Southwest Airlines President Emeritus Colleen Barrett Passes Away at 79

Barrett’s career at Southwest spanned decades and began before Southwest even existed. In 1968 she took a job as a legal secretary working for legendary Southwest founder Herb Kelleher. Over the years, Barrett played a pivotal role in the creation of the new airline and helped to keep Kelleher organized over the course of their 50+ year working relationship.

When Southwest Airlines launched in 1971, both Barrett and Kelleher stayed in their respective roles in the legal field. After a leadership restructure at the airline in 1978, Kelleher and Barrett took a leave of absence from the law firm and the rest is history.

Barrett’s Legacy at Southwest

Barrett began her career at Southwest serving as Kelleher’s secretary before being promoted to Vice President of Administration in 1986. A few years later, in 1990, she was promoted again to Executive Vice President of Customers. She had an instrumental role in shaping Southwest’s customer service strategy and instilling the strong culture the airline continues to exhibit today.

Upon her passing, Southwest President & CEO had this to say:

“Colleen’s legacy is the Heart of Southwest Airlines and everything that it stands for—the Golden Rule; Hospitality; Serving others; and most of all, LUV! Colleen’s fingerprints are all over Southwest Airlines, and she cherished her Southwest Family.”

Bob Jordan, Southwest President and CEO

From 2001 to 2008, Colleen served as President of the airline as well as the Corporate Secretary on the airline’s Board of Directors. This made her the highest ranking woman in the commercial airline industry at the time.

Honoring Colleen Barrett

Prior to her passing, Southwest named an aircraft, “Heroine of the Heart” after Barrett, first on a Boeing 737-700 and currently on a 737-8 MAX. The airline has also set up a website, and is encouraging people to share stories, thoughts, or condolences using #HonoringColleen.

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