Camille Keith, an original employee of Southwest Airlines and the first woman officer of a major domestic airline, died peacefully at her home in Dallas, surrounded by her family, on December 30, 2020.
The Fort Worth native attended Texas Tech University and later earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in journalism and broadcasting from Texas Christian University.
Prior to starting her 35-year career with Southwest Airlines, she worked in the promotion department of WFAA-TV. She joined Read-Poland Advertising and worked on the Southwest Airlines account just as the company began operations. After observing her marketing efforts at Read-Poland, then Southwest President Lamar Muse created a position for her in 1972. She became original employee #340.
In the early days of Southwest, she was a one-person department handling media relations, devising inflight games, executing marketing activities and radio promotions and planning special events including shareholders’ meetings and employee recognition programs.
She created the Sweethearts Club, the first frequent flier program in the airline industry, which rewarded secretaries for booking their bosses on Southwest. Over the years, she earned the titles of Director of Public Relations, Assistant Vice President Public Relations and Vice President Public Relations, the first woman to hold an executive position in the airlines industry.
At the time of her retirement in 2006, she served on the senior management and culture committees. As vice president of special marketing, she developed local customers among professional women, senior citizens, youth and the college students – markets that remain, today, as important ingredients in Southwest Airline’s success. She was also responsible for special projects throughout their service area.
Upon Camille’s retirement from Southwest, then President Colleen Barrett said, “Camille is the only person I know who has outdone even Herb (Kelleher) himself as the Company’s Goodwill Ambassador, giving more speeches, appearing at more events and representing Southwest Airlines as the ultimate Good Neighbor and Contributing Corporate Citizen to the many cities we serve.”
“Everyone across our system knows her; she is everyone’s friend; and she is known for always finding a way to say ‘yes’ when a cry for help goes out from one of Southwest’s friends,” she said.
Camille was the first woman inducted into the Texas Tech University School of Mass Communications’ Hall of Fame where she chaired the national advisory board. She is also a former member of the Texas Tech Alumni Association Board of Directors.
Perhaps her most memorable recognition came from Women in Communications when she shared the 1993 National Headliner Award with TV anchor and commentator, Barbara Walters. She was also the recipient of a national Athena Award that recognizes women who strive toward the highest levels of professional development, excel in their chosen field and devote time and energy to their community in meaningful ways.
Named a Rising Star by Texas Business Magazine, she was honored by the Women’s Center of Dallas with its Women Helping Women Award, by Women’s Enterprise Magazine with its Women of
Excellence Award, and was recognized by the Fort Worth Business Press as one of the Great Women of Texas.
Because of her prominence in the aviation industry, in 1995 she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the first-ever White House Conference on Travel and Tourism. Over the years, she chaired the Dallas-Fort Worth Area Tourism Council, Texas Tourism Advisory Committee, Office of the Governor Economic Development and Tourism committee and Texas Travel Industry Association (now Texas Travel Alliance) where she received their Lifetime Achievement Award. She had served as President of the Travel and Tourism Academy for the Dallas Independent School District.
A former board member of the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce, Senior Citizens of Dallas and American Heart Association- Dallas Chapter, she was past president of Executive Women of Dallas, Press Club of Dallas, Dallas Advertising League, Fort Worth Chapter of Women in Communication and United Cerebral Palsy Association in Dallas.
She is survived by her twin sister, Carmen Tidwell (Jim), her brother, Marvin Keith, Jr., and numerous nieces, nephews and godchildren.