Southwest Airlines co-founder Rollin King passes away

The Dallas Morning NewsJune 28, 2014 

DALLAS -- Southwest Airlines co-founder Rollin King has died. King was the South Texas businessman who sat down in the 1960s with his attorney, Herb Kelleher, to sketch out the idea for an intra-Texas airline. The idea turned into Air Southwest.

By the time all the battles were finished and the airline began flying on June 18, 1971, the company had been renamed Southwest Airlines.

Southwest Airlines issued this statement: "It is with heavy heart that the company reports the passing of Southwest Airlines co-founder Rollin King."

"The extended family of Southwest Airlines employees and retirees shares in the loss of Rollin King and honors the legacy of affordable air travel he sparked more than forty years ago," Southwest chairman, president and CEO Gary Kel

ly said.

"We hold the King family high in our thoughts today as we pause to pay tribute to a man whose great idea, resourcefulness, and perseverance launched Southwest Airlines in our endeavor to democratize the sky -- first over Texas, then America," Kelly said.

"I am indeed profoundly saddened to learn of Rollin's passing. His idea to create a low cost-low fare, better-service-quality airline in Texas subsequently proved to be an empirical role model for not only the U.S. as a whole but, ultimately, for all of the world's inhabited continents," Kelleher said in a statement. "The people of Southwest Airlines grieve with Rollin's family; mourn his absence; and thank him for his vision. God bless Rollin King!"

The official myth is that King and Kelleher were at a San Antonio bar when they used a cocktail napkin to sketch out a map of Southwest's proposed route system: a triangle linking San Antonio, Dallas and Houston.

King told us a few years ago there was never any such napkin. But the myth became reality in this regard: Southwest's first flights linked Dallas to San Antonio and to Houston. The third leg, San Antonio-Houston, began Nov. 14, 1971.

King and Kelleher incorporated the company March 15, 1967, but competitors Braniff Airways and Texas International Airlines waged a vigorous legal battle to keep the proposed airline grounded. Eventually, Kelleher was able to beat back the challenges.

King and Kelleher hired Lamar Muse to run the company in early 1971, and Muse was primarily responsible for putting together the early style and operations of Southwest Airlines.

King remained active in the airline, but he and Muse increasingly came into conflict. Muse in his 2002 autobiography wrote that "the relationship between Rollin King and myself had become more and more strained as each month went by."

According to Muse, Muse eventually pushed King out of his job as executive vice president of operations in early 1976. King opted to fly as a Southwest pilot until 1978.

King also served on the airline's board of directors for 39 years, from its incorporation in 1967 until his May 2006 retirement from the board.

According to Southwest, King was involved in executive education and consulting as the principal of Rollin King Associations between Jan. 1, 1989, until he retired Dec. 31, 1995. At one time, he also operated the King Sporting Agency.

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