Herb Kelleher, who turned conventional airline industry wisdom on its head by combining low fares with high standards of customer service to build Southwest Airlines into one of the nation’s most successful and admired companies, died on Thursday January 3 2019. He was 87.
Herbert Dwight Kelleher was born on March 12, 1931, in Camden, N.J., to Harry and Ruth (Moore) Kelleher. His father was a general manager at a Campbell’s Soup factory.
After attending Wesleyan University in Connecticut and later New York University Law School, Mr. Kelleher began his career as a lawyer. He married Joan Negley in 1955, and the couple had four children while living in New Jersey. His wife, three of their children and many grandchildren survive him.
In 1967, one of Mr. Kelleher’s clients, Rollin W. King, approached him with what seemed an outlandish idea: starting an airline that could fly passengers cheaply within Texas. Mr. King, who died in 2014, believed that Mr. Kelleher was just crazy enough to sign on.
Mr. Kelleher's net worth was estimated at $2.5 billion.
has listed Southwest Airlines as number five among America’s Top Ten most admired corporations. Kelleher himself has received numerous awards and honors, including the U. S. Chamber Business Leadership Hall of Fame; CEO of the Year and one of history’s top three CEOs, Chief Executive magazine; CEO of the Century, Texas Monthly magazine; National Sales and Marketing Hall of Fame; U. S. Master Entrepreneur, INC. magazine; CEO of the Decade-Airline Industry, Financial World magazine; Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy; Bower Award for Business Leadership, Franklin Institute; Smithsonian Aero Club Trophy; Tony Jannus Award; Wings Club Distinguished Achievement Award; San Diego Aerospace Hall of Fame; L. Welch Pogue Award for Lifetime Achievement in Aviation, Aviation Week; Airline Business Award, Airline Business magazine; 2005 Global Services Leader Award; History Making Texan Award; the Business Halls of Fame of the State of Texas, the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and the City of Dallas, the Herbert D. Kelleher Servant Leader Scholarship named in Herb’s honor by the Austin Business Travel Association, induction into the Texas Labor Management Hall of Fame; and the Transportation Research Forum President’s Award.
Kelleher graduated with honors from Wesleyan University, where he was an Olin Scholar and where his major was English and his minor Philosophy, and from NYU Law School, where he was a Root-Tilden Scholar.