M. LAMAR MUSE: 1920-2007
12:00 AM CST on Tuesday, February 6, 2007
By TERRY MAXON / The Dallas Morning News
M. Lamar Muse, the feisty airline executive who helped launch Southwest Airlines Co. in 1971 and then left in a boardroom fight seven years later, died late Monday of lung cancer at a Dallas retirement home. He was 86.
Herb Kelleher, one of Southwest's founders and its chairman since 1978, said Mr. Muse was "extremely important" to the Dallas-based carrier's success, bringing the airline the experience needed to get Southwest started.
Mr. Kelleher called Mr. Muse "a cantankerous genius. ... He was the perfect person – because he was tough, he was competitive, he was hard-minded – to get Southwest Airlines off the ground and turn it into a moneymaker, with all the opposition that we had and as bitter as it was."
Longtime airline industry executive and consultant John Eichner said Mr. Muse developed Southwest into the low-fare, high-productivity machine that it remains today. Airlines across the world, such as Ryanair Ltd. in Ireland and WestJet Airlines Ltd. in Canada, became successful by copying Southwest, Mr. Eichner said.
"They're all doing this pattern of Southwest Airlines, which really was Lamar's pattern," Mr. Eichner said.
"It really was one of the big innovations in the airline industry that made these startup airlines possible."
In 1981, Mr. Muse and son Michael Muse, who left Southwest along with his father, established another low-fare carrier based in Dallas, Muse Air Corp. – or "Revenge Air," as many labeled it. Southwest bought its competitor in 1985, effectively ending Mr. Muse's career running airlines.
Born in Houston in 1920, Mr. Muse grew up in Palestine, Texas, where he graduated from high school in 1937. He attended Southwestern University in Georgetown for two years before switching to Texas Christian University in 1940, leaving after his junior year.
He joined Price Waterhouse as a certified public accountant in 1941, his time there interrupted by a stint in the U.S Army Corps of Engineers from 1943 to 1945. He left Price Waterhouse in 1948 to go to work for Trans Texas Airways, followed by jobs at American Airlines Inc., Southern Airways, Central Airlines and Universal Airlines.
Pushed out at Universal in 1969, he moved to Conroe, where he was living when he heard about the airline that Rollin W. King and Mr. Kelleher had thought up.
"Rollin and I jointly agreed we needed someone with experience to operate a real airline with heavy equipment. Everyone was happy to have Lamar come on board," Mr. Kelleher said.
As Mr. Muse recalled in a 2002 autobiography, Southwest Passage, the carrier he joined as president and CEO had few employees, no airplanes and the name "Air Southwest."
"Since Air Southwest sounded to me like some Mickey Mouse, third-level carrier, I convinced the board to change the name to 'Southwest Airlines Co.,' " Mr. Muse wrote.
The tiny carrier began operations on June 18, 1971, with three airplanes. It had to sell a fourth airplane that was arriving later that year to meet payroll and airline employees figured out a way to operate about the same schedule with three airplanes by "turning" the airplanes more quickly between flights – in 10 minutes rather than 25.
"We fumbled around for 18 months before we found the formula," Mr. Muse said. "After we got the formula, all it was was cookie-cutting."
But even as the carrier turned profitable and kept growing, Mr. Muse began butting heads more and more with Mr. King.
Finally, in March 1978, Mr. Muse sent the Southwest board a letter of resignation, with the intent of forcing a showdown that would end up with the board choosing him over Mr. King. It was, Mr. Muse later said, a "big mistake."
In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Muse said he was proud of helping establish Southwest Airlines, but particularly pleased to have helped build a new YMCA facility in Palestine. He set up irrevocable trusts in 1997 to fund the YMCA, named after his parents, Hiram and Nan Muse. "That was what I was the proudest of," Mr. Muse said. "I created something."
Mr. Muse was preceded in death by his first wife, Juanice, and his brother, Ken, of Montgomery, Ala. Survivors include son Michael Muse of Dallas; daughters Deborah Ann Muse and Diane Muse Kinnan, both of Dallas, and Lisa Muse of Liberty Hill; sister Marian Thompson of Palestine; three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
He is also survived by ex-wife Barbara and her daughters, Culleen Vaughn and Connie Grizzard, both of San Antonio; and two grandchildren.
No memorial services are planned for Mr. Muse, his family said. Gifts may be made to the Palestine YMCA, Attention: Michael Oranch, 5500 N. Loop 256, Palestine, Texas 75801.
Lamar's ashes were scattered under the "Big P" in the Waddington Channel, British Columbia, Canada.
Lamar was a veteran of WW II serving in the Army Corps of Engineers in Northern France.
Juanice Guinn Muse
Gravesite Details Ashes scattered under the "Big P", Waddington Chanel, British Columbia, Canada
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