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.
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.
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.
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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.
2023 – People
2022 – Crew Planning & Analytics
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.”
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
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!
Customer Deanne W.
“Last Sunday, my husband, our son, and I were scheduled to take a 9:10 p.m. flight home from DEN to MDW. As we were waiting to check our bags, my 16-month-old suddenly started showing signs of discomfort and was feeling unwell. Carolee noticed and tried to interact with my son to make him feel better. Unfortunately, it didn’t help. I had a complete breakdown due to worrying about my son and, let’s be real, due to being very stressed out.
Wonderful Carolee asked for our IDs and came back a few minutes later telling us to run to the gate because she booked us a flight that was over three hours earlier than our original flight. I am so beyond thankful for Carolee! My son ended up being very sick after we got home, and I’m not sure what would’ve happened if Carolee hadn’t gotten us home on an earlier flight. What may have been a simple gesture to Carolee meant absolutely everything to us. Thank you again!”
Coheart Terry T.
“I wish I could send each one of you on the Facilities Maintenance Tech Team a Kick Tail to express my gratitude for all that you do. While many of us may rarely see you, some of us do SEE YOU! We see you because we are blessed to walk into such a beautiful facility every single day, where we are always comfortable, have clean spaces, and when something does need to be repaired, cleaned, moved, built, or removed, you all do it with stealth, efficiency, and timeliness that most of us rarely notice.
Having served in the military and knowing what it takes to make things happen behind the scenes, I have nothing but LUV and respect for all of you who keep the ship beaming with great pride. So, it is my intent to express my gratitude for all you do every single day. Incidentally, in my almost six months here at SWA, I have been blown away by how quickly and efficiently tickets I have placed are completed, and how anytime I have had a question, you have given me the gift of your time to help guide me on the process. Thank you again, and know that I am grateful to be a Coheart to SWAwesome Team Members like you all!”
Customer Cedric A.
“I would like to give praise to the Pilot who went way beyond the call of duty to assist me during the chaos of Christmas Eve. Captain Robert was very accommodating and patient with me when I was in a wheelchair and there were airport wheelchair pushers to assist me. Robert did not leave me until my family was able to retrieve me from HOU. I appreciate this gentleman so much; this was the best Christmas present that I received. Captain Robert did not want anything in return; it appeared that he only wanted to make sure I was safe with my family.
Captain Robert is the image of what going beyond the call of duty and great Customer Service looks like. He is to be praised for his kindness and love and for helping me during my time of need. Once again, I appreciate you, Captain Robert. You made my Christmas better. I hope you are my Pilot when I am able to fly again!”
Customer Deborah S.
“I booked my first trip on Southwest to see what all the hype is about. I was curious to see how the boarding process works and how the Employees interact with Customers. I chatted with a few Agents at DAL, all of whom told me how much they love working for Southwest. I work for another airline and am accustomed to tension in the terminals, but I experienced none of that with Southwest. I lined up as instructed based on my boarding group and number. All of the Customers were calm. Next, I noticed everyone was greeted as the Agent boarded them. He was sure to say thank you to each and every Customer as he welcomed them onboard. All of the Crew Members I encountered were also smiling. They were kind and informal, and you could see they really enjoy their jobs. Since this was a day trip planned just to get the Southwest experience, I went to the ticket counter once I arrived in DEN and asked to change my return to an earlier flight. I expected to be told I would be standby, but the flight was confirmed, and I even received a small credit. I was pleasantly surprised. Thank you to all of the Employees of Southwest for making travel a pleasant experience. You really do LUV your Customers!”
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.
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.