Colleen’s legacy lives on through several awards given today to both individuals and Teams that embody her core values and passion for service. Here we celebrate the impact she had, and continues to have, on those at Southwest® and beyond.

Colleen’s Impact - From the Voice of Others

Colleen’s legacy is evident from the many stories that pour in from Southwest Leaders, Employees, Customers, and others outside of the organization. Here is just a sampling.

Slide Robert Frost said, 'Isn't it a shame that people's minds work furiously until they get to work, and then they stop.' Well at Southwest Airlines®, they worked furiously when they're at work, and they work creatively, and they work imaginatively, and Colleen has been a big proponent from the very beginning of flexibility for Employees. - Herb Kelleher Slide I was a mechanic and was on the airplane fixing a problem while everyone was boarding. I was exiting the cockpit and ran into Colleen who was boarding the flight. She shouted, ‘Hi John! It’s so good to see you! How are you?’ and gave me the biggest hug ever. I had never met her before, but she acted like I was her favorite son. I will never forget that LUV®! - John Spence Slide Herb and Colleen came through OAK Ops when I was a new hire in 1994. I was actually a transplant from the Morris Air acquisition. Colleen’s warm and welcoming personality helped assuage any fears and uncertainty I had during my transition to the Southwest Family. A letter she sent to me 24 years later was permeated with the exact same warmth and LUV®. The true heart of SWA! - Gregg Lynn Slide I remember in 2006 in LAX I had an overnight during Christmas time. I was directed to go to a conference room where there was a party for us. Colleen was there, and I was so impressed with the Company thinking of us, but what impressed me most, I didn’t have my name tag on and Colleen said, ‘Hi Llianne.’ I never forgot that and was so impressed with Colleen and the Company. At that point, I knew I would bleed our colors here at SWA®. -Llianne Rocheleau Slide Colleen is the Heart and soul of Southwest Airlines. 9/11 was a really hard time for everyone, and I had Customers telling me how she reached out to them and made them want to fly again. We had passengers bringing us flowers. I knew someone on one of the planes that went down, and Colleen reached out to me. - Kathleen Henckel Paveglio Slide Back in the early 2000s, I began to grow and style my hair into dreads. The Company’s policy at the time was that a male’s hair had to be above the bottom of the shirt collar, and frontline males could not wear beards. I challenged the outdated policy and met with Colleen, managers, and HR in Dallas. When the HR manager opened with, ‘We are here to discuss Kevin’s hair,’ Colleen responded with, ‘What’s wrong with his hair?’ And that was the birth of our new hair policy for males. - Kevin Hayes Slide When I started in Customer Relations in 2008, I remember hearing, ‘An Employee will never get in trouble for trying to do the right thing for a Customer.’ That kind of empowerment that came from Colleen is what makes our Customer Service admired around the world. I’ll never forget the first time I received a handwritten note on a Customer letter. It meant the world to me as a new Employee and I still have notes from Colleen nearly 13 years later. - Rachel Barry Slide 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 50 years. And her passion and commitment to ensuring that our Employees provided Legendary Customer Service has made Southwest Airlines famous for our Hospitality. Her love for our Employees is an inspiration to us all, and we love her right back. - Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines CEO Slide Herb used to say that Colleen was many different people packaged into one body. That stuck with me, but over the years, I’ve seen every one of those people! Her loving side comes out when you have a life event or need a boost to your morale; her business side comes out when you need her opinion on something; her tough LUV comes out when you need a good course correction; and her playful side comes out when she knows you need a good distraction or a moment to de-stress. - Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines CCO Slide I remember sitting in one of my first Companywide Culture Committee Meetings at HDQ and we were discussing an issue in the Field. The issue itself isn't important, it's how we solved it. Colleen was listening (which she does very well at) and she stood up and said, "Why are we continuing to talk about it - just change it! Do it. That's how we get things done."

I've learned sometimes issues that arise can be solved easily by just changing your approach and just getting it done. There is no need for numerous meetings, polls, or one-on-one interviews. If everyone is on the same page, just do it and make it better.
- James Goodman
Slide (Colleen’s) touch on Southwest Airlines has kept me as an exclusive customer for over 20 years. While I’m retired now and don’t fly more than a couple of times per year, I haven’t flown on a competitor airline in 20 years.

In 1996, Southwest Airlines was celebrating their 25th anniversary. They announced that February that any customer that flew 25 segments would receive a companion pass. I was the very first to qualify for this new 25th Anniversary companion pass. In March 1996 my family was flying from Kansas City to Tampa for a family vacation at Walt Disney World. I called customer service to get the companion pass. A young lady in customer service FedExed the pass to me at Walt Disney World so that I could use it on our return trip home. What she did next went beyond the call of duty. Since we were returning home over the weekend she told me, “This new 25th Companion Pass is so new, the Southwest employees in Tampa probably haven’t seen it before. Here is my home phone number, please call me if you have any problems trying to use it.” I was shocked that this young lady went so far as to offer me her home phone number. This gracious act has kept me as an exclusive SWA customer ever since.
- Patrick Watts

Submit your Colleen story

Do you have a story about the impact Colleen has made on your own life? Share it here and it may be featured by the Institute in the future!

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Colleen’s legacy lives on through several awards given today to both individuals and Teams that embody her core values and passion for service.

Heroes of the Heart

Colleen started Heroes of the Heart in 1992 with the Culture Committee as a way to honor a workgroup that has no contact with external Customers. Due to their Customer-facing roles, many workgroups have the opportunity to be recognized for the outstanding work they do, but a lot of “behind the scenes” Teams that keep the heart of SWA beating never get that chance. 

The recipients of Heroes of the Heart receive several tangible prizes in addition to holding one of the highest honors at our Company, with the biggest (literally) being a plane! Next time you fly on Southwest, check your aircraft as you leave; it just might be the Heroes plane, emblazoned with the Heroes of the Heart logo and featuring the recipient Team’s name.

Colleen celebrating the 2016 Heroes of the Heart department: Diversity & Inclusion.

Previous Recipients
2021 – Customer Experience Team

2020 – Network Planning

2019 – Airport Affairs

2018 – Emergency Response Team

2017 – SWAU Coordination & Scheduling

2016 – Diversity & Inclusion

2015 – Governmental Affairs

2014 – Flight Simulation Technicians

2013 – Meteorology

2012 – Engineering

2011 – Headquarters Distribution Services

2010 – Investor Relations

2009 – Corporate Facilities

2008 – Graphic Design and Creative Services

2007 – Internal Customer Care

2006 – Legislative Awareness

2005 – Schedule Planning

2004 – People Benefits

2003 – Fuel Management

2002 – Finance Payroll

2001 – Pass Bureau

2000 – Revenue Management and Pricing

1999 – Maintenance Control

1998 – Systems (Technology)

1997 – Reservations Administrative Support Staff

1996 – Customer Service Coordinators and Flight Information Agents

1995 – Crew Planning, Scheduling, and Payroll

1994 – Technical Services

1993 – Station Coordinators


The Heart and Soul Award

The Heart and Soul Award, which is personally selected by Colleen, is awarded annually to one exceptional Employee that has demonstrated both years of hard work and dedication to Southwest Airlines, as well as a remarkable commitment to serving others with warmth, kindness, and Golden Rule behavior.

In Colleen’s words, “the Heart and Soul Award is the bow on top of a several tiered cake, each layer representing something different and wonderful. By way of example only, the first layer could be called The Golden Rule; the second, a Warrior Spirit; the third, a Fun-LUVing Attitude; the fourth, a Servant’s Heart; and the top candle or star or special icing, if you will, is the Heart and Soul Award.”


Colleen Barrett Award for Administrative Excellence

The Colleen Barrett Award for Administrative Excellence is the most coveted and prestigious honor bestowed by The Admin Awards and is named after the woman who first proved herself indispensable as legal secretary to former Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher, before ascending the ranks to President and COO of one of the world’s most iconic and successful companies. Colleen is a fierce advocate for the Administrative Profession and she understands first-hand the extraordinary impact that high performing Admins have on an organization’s success.

To learn more about the Colleen Barrett Award or nominated a deserving professional, please visit https://www.adminawards.com/awards-eligibility/#colleen-barrett-award


LUV® Mail

Colleen's passion for Customer Service lives on, as evidenced by LUV® Mail. Each month, Southwest® gets hundreds of letters, emails, and phone calls from Customers who share stories about our Southwest Warriors providing Legendary Customer Service. LUV® Mail highlights some of our greatest Employee tales, told by our LUVing Customers. Read on for some recent highlights!

Comments from Anonymous

I recently flew with you all, and I fell at the airport. One of your Employees, Charity S., who I later found out was off duty, rushed over to me with her suitcase in hand and immediately helped me up. She asked if I was ok, and thank God I was. She got me a wheelchair, walked with me through TSA, helped me to the restroom, and wheeled me to my gate area. After we talked to the Agent about pre-boarding, Charity sat and talked with me until my flight boarded. I asked where she was traveling, and she said she was going to be with her family because someone had passed away. I asked when her flight departed, and she told me she had missed it and would wait around for the next one. Of course, she missed her flight because of me. Her generosity, her spirit, and how she put her needs aside to help me changed my entire day. I still think about her smile. I’ve never been treated so kind and so loving before. I even cried when I hugged her before boarding. Thank you, Charity, and good job Southwest for hiring her!

LUV Report from Dacia T.

Joel, Lorrie, Charles, Nichole – Thank you so much for an awesome flight experience! After two years at home, our family of four finally decided to go on a vacation to San Diego for my daughter Izzie’s 6th birthday. She and her 4-year-old brother were so excited to finally fly on an airplane again and tell everyone it was her birthday. I asked the Crew if they could wish her a happy birthday, and she said, “We got you!“ First, the Pilot announced Izzie and told everyone that she was a special guest who has a birthday coming up. Then the Flight Attendants asked the Passengers to turn on their call button lights and sing happy birthday. And they brought her the most awesome toilet paper cake with some small goodies for her and her brother. My daughter was so surprised and smiled so big. She said she loves Southwest, and everyone was so nice! Kudos to the Crew for making the trip special for our family!

Comments from Customer Corey D.

I was traveling from MSP to STL, beginning my day at 4:30am. My 6:10am flight turned into an 11:30am flight to DAL, where I would now change planes. We arrived one hour late, leaving me minutes to connect. My next flight stopped in HOU but no plane change. I was the only person staying onboard. The Crew was leaving the aircraft when a Flight Attendant named Adam struck up a conversation with me. I explained my long day, and the pure compassion and empathy he displayed was unmatched. Since I hadn’t eaten (other than two bags of your WONDERFUL snack mix), and there wasn’t time for me to deplane, he grabbed a few more bags plus a drink. I thought this was amazing Customer Service and was absolutely thankful. All of a sudden the Operations Agent came onboard with a Burger King bag. Written on the outside was “We appreciate you flying with us. Have a great rest of your day! Adam.” I almost fell out of my seat. As a Director of Operations for more than 15 years, this was amazing. That’s how you create Raving Fans. I am forever grateful for Adam’s Courtesy, Compassion, and Care—my 3 C’s to Customer Service!

LUV report Customer Gary

I had mistakenly left two very sentimentally valuable cigar lighters in my luggage. My options were to allow them to be confiscated or leave and return to security without them. I had no option to send them home and didn’t want to lose them. I asked Elizabeth at your service desk to mail them to my house for me with an offer to cover the cost of postage as well as her time and effort. She said it was against policy to accept money but that as a personal favor (for a perfect stranger) she would drop them off at my house after her shift. She did just that and left the following note: “Hi Gary, here are your lighters! Glad you were able to keep your birthday gift.  Thanks for flying SWA. Be Human, Be Kind. -Elizabeth F.” Elizabeth exemplifies your Culture. She went above and beyond, and for that I am grateful. She has personally made Southwest Airlines the “go to first choice” carrier for me for life! Thank you for building such an amazing Company, and thank you for allowing my path to cross with Elizabeth’s. I will never forget the kindness she showed to me that day. She’s awesome and amazing!


Ronald McDonald House Charities® (RMHC®)

One of the Company’s pilots, Captain Dick East, introduced Colleen Barrett, and Herb Kelleher to the Ronald McDonald House® program. East had been volunteering at Houses since the loss of his daughter to lymphoma. Instantly enamored with the program’s mission, Barrett and Kelleher encouraged Employees companywide to become involved. Then in February 1985, Southwest officially adopted RMHC as its primary charity.

Southwest’s dedication to the Ronald McDonald House grew as rapidly as the airline itself. Southwest not only devotes its heart and soul to the Charity, but it also provided financial assistance through its annual LUV Classic Tournament and Party. This golf tournament originated in 1985 as a fund-raiser for a popular Dallas club owner who was battling cancer. When the owner donated the excess funds to the Dallas Ronald McDonald House, Southwest followed his lead. All the proceeds in subsequent years were donated to Ronald McDonald House Charities, and eventually expanded to support children’s charities across the Southwest system. The LUV Classic played its final round in 2020 on the 35th Anniversary of the event, having raised a total of $19.1 million for 213 charities and contributed over 54,000 hours of Employee volunteer time.

Becker College

In 2018, Becker College launched The Colleen C. Barrett Center for Global Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Center serves as an epicenter of innovation, entrepreneurship, learning agility, leadership, and problem-solving on the Becker campus in Worcester, MA. The Center was made possible by the visionary gift of $1 million from Colleen, who has been a passionate supporter of her alma mater since her graduation in 1964.

In 2008, Southwest celebrated Colleen’s transition to President Emeritus by endowing a scholarship at Becker College in her honor. The Colleen C. Barrett Scholarship Fund awarded $2,500 annually to a freshman enrolled at Becker for the fall semester. In addition to meeting certain academic requirements and federally-determined financial needs, the recipient must have exhibited strong communication skills and possess a “Servant’s Heart,” demonstrated through meaningful service to charitable organizations or their community.

Sign up to receive the free Colleen C. Barrett Institute Roundtable event: Lessons in Customer Service from some of the World’s Most Loved Brands. This event event was filmed in September 2021 with leaders from Southwest Airlines, Drury Hotels, and Chick-fil-A, discussing what makes legendary Customer Service and how to leverage a Culture of Hospitality to win and keep loyal Customers. You will also receive regular updates from The CCB Institute, including information about future events and offerings.

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