You can't say it's a shame.....a man of 86 years who has lived life to the fullest and succeeded beyond one's wildest dreams....who, in the process, made a lot of people rich. I guess you can say it's sad to see him go, it's true that he is seldom recognized for everything he did for the airline industry.
We can also say that it'll be a helluva long time before the airline industry sees anyone else like Lamar.
I'll share a few memories that might not have gotten captured in the news articles.
Lamar was a very soft-spoken individual...so soft-spoken, in fact, that it was sometimes difficult to hear what he was saying. Many times, especially if you were a subordinate who had not accomplished what Lamar thought you should have...what he was saying (when you finally heard it) would curl your hair, cause insomnia, and curdle milk at 100 yds. A nice way to phrase it would be to say Lamar had a way with words, and could cuss someone in very low tones but there was never any doubt that you had been verbally ripped to shreds.
Lamar always thought of his employees as his team, and it bothered him somewhat when they organized.....not that he was opposed to unionism per se, but he always hated a union getting in the way between him and his people. As a result, he always wanted to make sure that the employee groups that did not organize got better pay and benefits than those who voted in a union.
After the $13 war, when loads were getting bigger and better by the minute....one Sunday Lamar and his late wife Juanice flew in to Love Field and noticed that the gates were crowded, the employees were unbelievably busy...so they went home, made up a whole bunch of food, and brought it to the break room. A nice gesture, nothing outrageous....but stop and think about the last time you heard of an Airline CEO and his wife personally cooking up a bunch of food, with no prior planning or announcement, in order to make sure the employees got a bite to eat on their lunch break.
The profit sharing plans that Lamar put in to place ensured that all of the early employees...not just pilots and execs....but the rez agents, cabin cleaners, skycaps, everyone.......walked away millionaires after 25 yrs or so. Millionaires. Millionaire sykcaps.
Lamar argued for years that his board room challenge / showdown that led to his departure from Southwest had nothing to do with his desire to install his son Mike as his heir apparent as Prez/CEO at Southwest...but most of us who were around will always believe that was the root of the problem. And while Mike is an okay guy......those of us who were around will tell you that the kid he should have put in charge was his daughter Debbie.
Lamar was working for Trans-Texas Airways when they decided they had to have some aircraft to replace their aging (and less attractive to passengers) DC-3s. They decided to try and buy some Convair 240s used from American. Earl McKaughan, president of TTa, told Lamar to try and get them down to $250K apiece (can you imagine buying airlines for $250K)? If I have the story straight, Lamar negotiated American down to a price of $225K or so, and told American it was a deal. He then called Houston, only to be told that wasn't good enough, squeeze another $10K or so apiece out of American. Having made a deal, and then getting back doored by the company the way he did was why Lamar left Trans Texas.
He was hired at Central to try and salvage a sinking ship. Central had the worst routes, worst airplanes, worst service, and worse reputation of any of the local service airlines. When two of your really good stations are Lawton, Oklahoma and Fort Smith, Arkansas that ought to tell you something. Lamar got ahold of Central, beat it in to shape.....tried as clever a pricing scheme as the CAB would let him get away with (fly anywhere on Central for the regular price and fly back home for $10)..and within a few months had it more profitable than any of the other local service carriers. Then the people who hired him to save the airline sold it out from under him to Frontier, in the process octupling their investment. Imagine...800% return on your investment in two years.
Southwest is often thought of as Herb's airline, and you can't really diminish the fact that Kelleher took what Lamar handed him and managed to not "F" it up. Most executives would have messed it up immensely. But let's not, for one second, think that there would ever have been a Southwest Airlines had it not been for Lamar.
A couple of quick anecdotes for now.....I am reminded of when Lamar, in Austin, got the news on a Thursday afternoon that Southwest had received approval to start flying in and out of Harlingen...their first expansion outside the original three cities. He snuck off to a phone booth, called the VP
-Ground Ops, and asked in a whisper if it would be possible to start service by Monday or Tuesday. Lamar was afraid Texas International would find a sympathetic judge to grant a restraining order. A measure of how loyal Lamar's folks were---the VP
himself and the Dallas Station Manager loaded up a pickup with everything they could think of that they might need to open a station, left Dallas about 8 that night, rolled in to Harlingen Friday morning, and spent the next 72 hrs setting up a station. The first flight arrived from Houston, IIRC, on Monday morning at 9:20 am. The VP
was the only one who passed the FAA's weather observer test on the first try, so he had to spend the week in Harlingen until they could train some folks and get them certified to take weather observations. When Southwest inaugurated service to Midland/Odessa and Lubbock the same day (5/20/77?) Lamar was supposed to ride the 7:30 am LBB
, then catch the 8:30 DAL
so he could be at both locations for the inaugural festivities. Well, fog in Dallas kept the 6:25 to LBB
(which turned the 7:30 flight back) on the ground so ultimately Lamar hopped in rent car and headed for Midland/Odessa at about 100 mph (in that era of 55 mph speed limits), picking up 3 speeding tickets along the way.
Lamar's motto for the airline industry, which so few pay any attention to, was "feed the rich and grow poor, feed the poor and grow rich."