Southwest Founder
Southwest Airlines Founder and Chairman Emeritus Herbert D. Kelleher died Thursday at the age of 87. A Southwest airlines plane sits on the tarmac at Los Angeles airport on Jan. 30, 2017. Getty Images/Daniel SLIM

Southwest Airlines (LUV) founder and chairman emeritus Herbert D. Kelleher died Thursday at the age of 87.

Kelleher was an innovator when it came to the airline industry, creating the quirky Southwest Airline that many have come to know and love. He incorporated Air Southwest Inc. with client Rollin King in 1967. The inspiration behind the airline was to offer low-fares and intra-Texas airline services. The airline took to the skies in 1971 and has since made “flying fun and affordable.”

Kelleher worked hand-in-hand with Colleen Barrett, president emeritus at Southwest Airlines. The duo was a “powerful pair” since the days that Barrett started as Kelleher’s legal secretary in 1967. Kelleher and Barrett worked to groom the airline and nurture it from the ground up to the company it is today.

“He always supported me and always treated me as his complete equal,” Barrett said. “His generosity and inclusion from the very beginning allowed me opportunities and experiences that have been my guiding lights.”

Kelleher also worked alongside Southwest CEO, Gary Kelly, becoming a mentor and lifelong friend.

"Herb was a lifelong mentor and friend, and one of the greatest joys of my life has been working alongside Herb for over 30 years, Gary Kelly, CEO and chairman for Southwest Airlines, said. “His stamp on the airline industry and all those he touched has been profound.

“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.

“He inspired people; he motivated people; he challenged people—and, he kept us laughing all the way. He was an exceptionally gifted man with an enormous heart and love for people—all people. We have been beyond blessed to have him as a part of our lives,” Kelly added.

Kelleher was Southwest’s executive chairman from March 1978 to May 2008. He served as president and CEO of the company from September 1981 to June 2001.

He decided early on that his internal customers would come first – his employees. He was quoted as saying, “It is my practice to try to understand how valuable something is by trying to imagine myself without it.”

Kelleher was born March 12, 1931, in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. He received his bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan and a law degree from New York University. Kelleher is survived by his wife Joan and three of four children as well as many grandchildren.