Southwest airlines mourns the passing of president Emeritus Colleen Barrett (1944-2024)

image credit: Southwest Airlines

Thursday, May 9, 2024: With deep sadness, Southwest Airlines Co. shares that President Emeritus Colleen Barrett, 79, has passed away, surrounded by loved ones.

Colleen passionately guided generations to do the right thing, and often cited The Golden Rule—insisting that everyone treat each other in a way they would hope to be treated. She widely is credited with giving Southwest Airlines its Heart because of her strong belief in Employees showing love for each other, as well as to our Customers. That foundational tenet defines the Southwest Culture more than half-a-century since the founding of the airline. She lived her life as an example for all to follow.

The entire Southwest Airlines Family extends deepest sympathies to her son and daughter-in-law, Patrick and Melodie Barrett; her beloved grandson, Evan Daniel Barrett; and her brother, Pat Crotty and his family.

Colleen dedicated herself to putting Employees first and encouraging them to deliver Positively Outrageous Customer Service, which became the very signature of Southwest Airlines. She was responsible for instilling The Golden Rule among the Employees of Southwest, and she was the architect of the company’s famous corporate Culture.

Colleen’s fervent mantra was to treat people the way they want to be treated—with kindness and respect—and the rest will follow, including profitability and shareholder satisfaction. To share this leadership philosophy, Colleen co-authored with Ken Blanchard the book Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Success.

She believed that Southwest was truly “a customer service organization, which just happened to fly airplanes.” In 2021, Southwest Airlines honored her legacy by establishing the Colleen C. Barrett Institute of Cultural Excellence & Customer Service.

As time went on, Colleen became an integral part in forming the dynamic Employee Culture of Southwest and its relentless focus on Customer Service. She was honored to serve in several positions of Leadership, including Vice President Administration; Executive Vice President Customers; President and Chief Operating Officer, and finally President of the airline from 2001 to July 2008, making her the highest-ranking woman in the commercial airline industry at that time. She also served on the Southwest Airlines Company Board of Directors from 2001 to 2008 as Corporate Secretary.

Bob Jordan, President & CEO said: “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.

“She taught us how to lead with our Hearts, but she was also one of the toughest people I’ve ever known, leading the charge on many battles and coming out victorious through them all.

“We will honor her unending contributions to Southwest Airlines by living out our Southwest Way Values in everything we do. She taught us that, and we owe it to her.”

Gary Kelly, Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors at Southwest Airlines,said: “Colleen has been the heart and soul of Southwest Airlines from our earliest days. She is largely responsible for creating and nurturing the unique and special Culture that has defined Southwest Airlines and been the envy of corporate America for more than 50 years.

“Her passion and commitment to ensuring that our Employees provided Legendary Customer Service has made Southwest Airlines famous for our Hospitality.

“As Colleen is famous for saying, ‘We are in the Customer Service business, we just happen to fly airplanes.’ Her love for our Employees was undying and unending, and we loved her right back. Simply put, she is and always will be our Heroine.”

Colleen loved People but was allergic to flowers, so instead of flowers, donations and other expressions of remembrance to honor her life and legacy should be directed to the Southwest Airlines Employees Catastrophic Assistance Charity, Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Visiting Nurse Association (Meals on Wheels), or the Dallas Hearing Foundation.