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Jannus honors another pioneer

Southwest president is the first female to earn the award.

By James Thorner, Times Staff Writer
Published April 5, 2007


Colleen Barrett, the former secretary-turned-Southwest Airlines president, will be the first woman to collect the Tony Jannus Award, joining such first-in-flight types as Chuck Yeager, Eddie Rickenbacker and Frank Borman.

Tampa Bay area business leaders created the award in 1964 to recognize leaders in commercial aviation. As the highest ranking woman in the U.S. airline industry, Barrett, 62, has been a groundbreaker.

Her Dallas company is the largest carrier at Tampa International Airport with 79 daily nonstop flights and among the few to consistently turn a profit in an industry adrift in red ink.

In making the announcement Wednesday in a TIA hangar complete with a new Southwest Boeing 737 as a backdrop, former Air Force Col. Dick Newton cited Barrett's kinship with Tony Jannus, the pioneer who piloted the world's first commercial flight, from St. Petersburg to Tampa, in 1914. "They share fearlessness, tenacity and love of aviation that is unmatched," Newton told a crowd of about 100.

This year, Southwest executive chairman Herb Kelleher named Barrett "heroine of hearts" for her dedication to her 32,000-member airline "family." Hearts dominated the Tampa hangar, from the nose art on the 737 to the heart-shaped balloon arch to the cakes and soft pretzels baked in that shape.

Barrett's and Kelleher's roots run deep. She was a 26-year-old legal secretary in his office when the then-San Antonio lawyer founded the airline in 1971. After succeeding as a customer service executive, she was named president in 2001. She'll collect the Jannus Award Oct. 25 at the Tampa Airport Marriott.

About the award

It all started in 1914 with the world's first scheduled commercial flight. Tony Jannus charged $5 for a one-way fare from St. Petersburg to Tampa on his single-engine "flying boat." The 21-mile trip took 23 minutes. On the 50th anniversary of Jannus' flight, the Tampa and St. Petersburg chambers of commerce began dispensing an annual award to giants of the aviation industry. Winners have resembled a Who's Who of aviation.

About the winner

Born: Sept. 14, 1944 in Bellows Falls, Vt.
Career background: legal secretary, vice president of administration and executive vice president of customers at Southwest Airlines.
Nickname: Heroine of Hearts
Quirks: Refuses to use e-mail, rises at 3:50 a.m., plans her calendar a year in advance
Quote: "We are in the customer service business. We just happen to fly airplanes."

[Last modified April 4, 2007, 23:28:43]

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