HARLINGEN — Herb Kelleher believed in Harlingen long before it was fashionable.
The founder, CEO and chairman of Southwest Airlines died a year ago, but his faith and memory won’t soon be forgotten.
“By adding Harlingen to the original ‘triangle’ of destinations, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, he made a profound and lasting impact on the city,” reads a PowerPoint presentation created by city staff.
“The City Commission wanted to express their gratitude to Herb Kelleher and directed staff to provide choices to honor him and the concept of the mural was selected,” the PowerPoint reads.
The new mural created by artist Angel Hernandez, located on a wall facing Lozano Plaza downtown at Jackson Street and A Street, is now finished.
City officials plan an official unveiling, which probably will occur in February, said Ed Meza, downtown manager.
So would Valley International Airport be what it is today without Herb Kelleher’s faith in Harlingen?
“That’s probably a really difficult question to answer but I would say no, it wouldn’t be what it is today,” said Marv Esterly, director of aviation at VIA. “Southwest has been an amazing partner. Of course, Herb had faith in coming to Harlingen and Valley International Airport many years ago, and I think we have our 45th anniversary coming up this year, so he even had the faith in us at that point in time.
“We were actually the fourth city for Southwest Airlines from their original triangle” of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, Esterly added. “We’re very proud of that and we want to continue that for years and years to come.”
A large part of Harlingen’s unlikely inclusion in the early routes of Southwest can be attributed to the influence of the late David Allex, the longtime Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce chief executive.
Adding Harlingen among its early routes for Southwest after its founding in 1966 has been an almost incalculable benefit to the city as well as the development of Valley International Airport over the years.
“From what I understand, Herb obviously was one of the founders of Southwest Airlines, but he and Davis Allex had a very good relationship which was cultivated by David and somehow David convinced Herb that Harlingen should be one of the spokes on the Southwest routes,” said Raudel Garza, chief executive officer of the Harlingen Economic Development Corp. “That had to do a lot with David’s relationship with Herb, and I think there might have been some other players, but he was a big player.”
The mural shows Kelleher with lush green fields and palms behind him, and a Southwest Airlines plane overhead. In the background are citrus groves and in the foreground with him is a resaca.
A quotation from Kelleher completes the mural. It reads: “The essential difference in service is not machines or ‘things.’ The essential difference is minds, hearts, spirits and souls.”