Rollin King, 83; Texas businessman helped start Southwest Airlines


Rollin King, shown here on a Boeing demo flight in 1968, died at 83. (Southwest Airlines)
June 29

Rollin King, a San Antonio businessman who helped start Southwest Airlines and create a new age of competition in the airline industry, died June 26 at his home in Dallas. He was 83.

The cause was complications from a stroke about a year ago, said a son, Edward King.

Longtime Southwest chief executive Herb Kelleher praised Mr. King for coming up with the idea of a discount airline that would serve Texas travelers. Kelleher said in a statement issued by Southwest that the idea of a low-cost, low-fare airline with good service changed the industry not only in the United States but also worldwide.

Interstate air service was heavily regulated by the federal government in 1967, when Mr. King sat down with Kelleher, his attorney to map out the idea for a no-frills airline to connect Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

The Dallas Morning News quoted Kelleher as crediting the idea for a Texas-only carrier to Mr. King’s banker, who had studied the success of Pacific Southwest Airlines, a California intrastate carrier.

The fledgling Southwest had to survive several legal challenges, by Braniff International and other airlines, before its first flight in 1971. It began flying outside Texas in 1979 after airline deregulation, and is scheduled to begin international flights next week. Southwest, the nation’s fourth-largest airline company, reported revenue of $17.7 billion for 2013.

Mr. King served on the board of directors from 1967, when the company was incorporated as Air Southwest, until 2006.

He served as executive vice president for operations until he stepped down in 1976 amid conflicts with then-President M. Lamar Muse, who was widely credited with shaping the airline’s early freewheeling reputation. Muse helped dub Southwest, based at Love Field in Dallas, the “Love airline,” and he enlisted an army of comely young flight attendants in orange hot pants.

Rollin White King was born April 10, 1931, in Cleveland, and he graduated in 1955 from what is now Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He received a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School in 1962.

Mr. King moved to Texas to become a partner in a new investment counseling firm and in 1964 bought a small air charter firm called Wild Goose Taxi Service, according to a Texas State Historical Association article on Southwest.

The company flew between San Antonio and smaller cities in South Texas and was never profitable, according to the article.

His marriage to the late artist Marcia Gygli King ended in divorce. They had two sons. A complete list of survivors could not be immediately confirmed.

— From news services

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