May 1, 2019

Hats in Texas often represent much more than just something to put on your head. Often hats are personal and the style can provide insight about the person wearing the hat. Hats can be symbolic. When a good friend from a family of Texas ranching legends passed away, his family placed his old worn out Stetson on his casket. After the service, at the reception, I was surprised but then pleased to see the oldest of his three sons wearing the hat that had been on the casket. To me, the passing of the hat was a rite of passage and a visual symbol that the eldest son was assuming the family leadership role. The hat that was symbolic of death minutes earlier now stood for a new beginning and I felt hope for the future.

For generations, famous people from all over the world have come to Paris Hatters in downtown San Antonio, Texas to get a Stetson cowboy hat. I consider Paris Hatters a special and unique part of Texas history that is almost hidden in my boyhood hometown. Abe Cortez and his wife Myrna are the third generation of their family to operate the business since it opened in 1917.  Ranchers, presidents, kings, movie stars and singers have all bought hats at Paris Hatters. Even Pope John Paul II got a hat there! Abe said that a young country and western singer just getting started came to the store many years ago and bought a hat. He told Abe as he was walking out the door, “Remember the name Garth Brooks.” The company website shows a list of famous people who have obtained hats at Paris Hatters.

For me, there are right times and wrong times to create certain memories. I waited for years for the right time to take my son, Jarid, to San Antonio to get him a Stetson cowboy hat at Paris Hatters. On the day we went, I had the hatter shape Jarid’s 500X Stetson in the building’s back room (where very few customers are allowed to go) on the old steamer used for countless years before a new one was installed on the sales floor. I had taken one of my own Stetsons for a minor repair and I was a little surprised that Jarid requested the hatter to add some of the elements of my hat styling to his hat. The small and subtle stylings of my hat  are personal to me. Jarid’s desire to incorporate these touches into his own hat touched me. Long after I am gone, there will be a small part of me with him.

Before we departed the Paris Hattery, Abe directed his daughter Alexandra, who is taking over the business, to huddle with Jarid and I. Abe had me sit down with him in the narrow and crowded shop on what appeared to be some old wooden theater seats as Jarid and Alex stood adjacent to us. Abe and I talked about the importance of carrying on family traditions and values and how it is an advantage in business to give from the heart. We both shared how important it is to us to take care of our customers.  This was a moment that “the old guys” and next-generation entrepreneurs will not ever forget. This spontaneous encounter was a blessing that I could not have planned. As I often say, “there are no accidents in life.”

Jarid and I stayed at the Hotel Emma in what was once the Pearl Brewery. Growing up in San Antonio, I had friends whose parents worked at the Pearl Brewery and the Lone Star Brewery. Staying in the brewery converted hotel created more special memories for both of us.

Before we departed San Antonio, I had one more memory mission to complete with my son. Since his recent passing, I have been searching for a way to say goodbye to my friend and mentor Herb Kelleher, one of the founders of Southwest Airlines. Since Jarid is now the President of the King Aerospace companies and I continually share with him things that Herb preached and lived, I thought an appropriate salute would be for Jarid and I to toast Herb with his favorite drink, Wild Turkey on the rocks. I thought a good place for the toast would be the Saint Anthony Hotel bar in downtown San Antonio, where legend has it that the idea for Southwest Airlines was conceived on a cocktail napkin. Jarid and I had our drinks and toasted Herb in the oldest part of the bar.

I treasure the memory of the day some 35 years ago when I asked Herb and Colleen Barrett what would happen to Southwest Airlines when they were gone. That day they told me that the servant leadership culture they had implemented would preserve their culture. Over the years I have asked myself the same question about my own company but now I have no doubt that Jarid knows what is deep in my heart and will continue my servant leadership mission.  Herb took the time to visit with me to share his vision of servant leadership and I do the same with my son and others with the expectation they will keep the servant leadership spirit alive.

Shortly after our memorable trip to San Antonio, I stumbled on a page of my personal journal from March of 1992. At this point in my life I was trying hard to find employment and start King Aerospace after leaving Associated Air Center. My wife Barbara was working four jobs as a registered pediatric nurse to support our young family and was the sole breadwinner for the family.

My notes reflected after paying our monthly bills at the start of March, we had $22 to last the balance of the month. Here is the entry I found:

March 8, 1992 Journal Entry:

“I asked several former clients and aviation friends to call or send a positive reference to the person at Lockheed who didn’t hire me. I sometimes wonder if he too was concerned that I might become his boss. One of the persons who sent him a letter was Herb Kelleher, Chairman of the board of Southwest Airlines. They are the only airline to be making a profit in today’s competitive airline market. When I got Herb’s letter it helped to restore some of my lost pride and self-confidence. I will always treasure his kind words:

‘I understand that Mr. Jerry King is an applicant for the position of Sales Manager with your company, and I am very pleased to offer him the highest recommendation that I can possibly give for him.

I have known Jerry for several years, and, in my opinion he epitomizes the best qualities in America. His high energy, enthusiasm, dedication, compassion, good humor, and desire to excel are seldom equaled in my experience.

Very often, writing letters of recommendation is a difficult chore because the writer entertains some uncertainty of dubiety as to the merits of the applicant. Writing this letter on behalf of Jerry is by contrast, a pleasure and joy because I am 100% certain that he will be a great adornment to your group ant that you will agree with me 100% after he is “onboard.”

Herbert D. Kelleher’”

I pray I never let my friend, mentor, and role model down as I strive to create more memorable experiences serving God, Country and Family!

Written by KING AEROSPACE Founder, Jerry Allan King-Echevarria.