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Flashback Fridays: Farewell to a Friend

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In the presence of Brian Lusk, I learned a lot, and I groaned a lot. The man had a knack for knowledge, and a penchant for puns (and planes).

Mr. Lusk was the unmatched combination of a human encyclopedia, almanac, and thesaurus, all wrapped into one of the worst joke-of-the-day books I’ve ever read.

Often, Mr. Lusk would dispense my way one of his trademark puns, and delight in my agonized reaction. I wasn’t really put off. Of course, he knew that.

For how different we were, Brian and I had a lot in common.

We both graduated from SMU, and ran the radio station there. Nearly three decades separated us, but Brian often joked we were distant roommates (more like the odd couple, if you ask me). We’d been known to bust into Varsity from time to time.  At Southwest, Brian bequeathed me the management of this very blog. And although I moaned and groaned about his brand of wit, I rarely passed up spending time with him, and consider myself very lucky for having done so. I had so much more to learn from him.

Brian’s vast knowledge was outmatched only by his big heart, and I can’t recall a single moment where Brian didn’t cheer me up. I smiled even when we were driving back to Milwaukee from Oshkosh, and he fell asleep in the passenger seat, and knocked the car into manual gear-shift, and sent us into fourth gear. Not once, but twice. We very nervously laughed about it at the time.

In Brian’s galaxy of history, I was just a small star. Those are just the facts, because I never felt that way.  His LUV for aviation knew no bounds, rivaled only by his adoration for trains and, of course, for his family and friends.  If you were interacting with Brian, you had his undivided attention.

BL in Train
Brian Enjoying a Train Ride in Canada

It would take days for us all to recount our Brian stories, but here are a few from some of Brian’s closest friends and Coworkers. Let’s not stop there—please share your stories about Brian below in the comments section.

Sandy Nelson Price, Communications Specialist

When Brian and I met in 1997, we immediately clicked—he and I had started at Southwest two years earlier, only about two weeks apart; we had both had previous airline careers—his with Delta, mine with Braniff; we both loved the airline industry; we shared a love of language—both written and spoken; and then, there was the humor.  I’m sure I could go on forever on how brilliant Brian was and how vast his knowledge of all things aviation, but right now, it’s just going to be about the funny (okay, okay, punny) and creative guy I always called BL.


Everyone knows what a truly unique holiday Halloween is at Southwest, and if you’ve ever been to Halloween at HDQ, you’ve probably seen Brian in a variety of roles and costumes.

Halloween
Southwest Airlines Halloween (Executive Office)

Brian and I collaborated on a number of Halloween skits/shows while working together in the Executive Office.  I have fond memories of seeing (and hearing) him gargle an entire song while dressed in a yellow rain slicker; watching him stroke a bald cat as Dr. Evil; enjoying his somewhat macabre rendition of the narrator in The Rocky Horror Airport Experience; and representing “Dullta” Air Lines in MDW, the Musical.  But a performance that will stay with me forever (and still brings a smile to my heart) was his (and four other intrepid Southwest guys’) appearance in The Full Freedom Monty, complete with black bomber jackets, pilots’ caps, and yes, even the hilarious foam-rubber bare chests.   To say that watching five guys (with rhythm enough between them to equal maybe one amateur dancer) practice a mild “bump and grind” move was a sidesplitting experience cannot come close to the hilarity that ensued every time they performed their routine.


As you might imagine, Brian’s theatrical inclinations not only allowed him to become many different characters, but also provided him with opportunities to let his penchant for accents to shine through.   Rarely was a phone call from my phone to his not answered with,   “Jerry Lundegaard here,” in his very best Fargo inflection.  I would always reply, “Have you had any cars go missing off your lot?” (or “any planes go missing off your tarmac,” depending on my mood) in my very best Marge Gunderson voice.  We’d continue in that vein for a minute or so, before getting down to business, and, strange as it may seem, those conversations will be part of what I miss the most about Brian: his reliable, unique, and always welcomed sense of humor.

Brian and Sandy
Brian and Sandy Nelson Price

Love you, BL!

Jon Shubert, Sr. Project Lead

Some of us come to the airline industry and learn to appreciate its wonderment, and some, like Brian, have been fascinated with it from birth. And that was one of the most endearing things about Brian—his love of all things “airline.” I knew this, and had experienced his wide-eyed enthusiasm for airline facts, history, and trivia many times. But nothing drove it home for me more acutely than a flight we took to Atlanta on one of our AirTran Integration Team trips—and I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before on the many other flights we’ve taken together. We deplaned in Atlanta, and he took a sharp left out of the jetbridge, walked over to the gate window, and began writing on a notepad. I stopped to wait for him, and when he caught up with me, I asked him what was up. With a radiant look on his face—you’ve seen it many times too—he proudly told me that he was recording the tail number of the plane, the mileage of the flight, the city pairs…  I didn’t hear anything else he said after that because I was so distracted by the awe of how much he loved—LOVED—airplanes.  I’ll for sure miss him, for that and many, many other things.

Brian and Jon
Jon Shubert (left) and Sonia Avila (center) with Brian at the Frontiers of Flight Museum

Have a nice flight, Brian.

Dan Johnson, Dispatch ATC Specialist & Original Southwest Employee

I was contacted at home and advised that Brian Lusk had passed away. I am so grateful I did not hear about it in an email, that someone cared enough to call me directly.

I just saw him in the hallways last week, he seemed a little weak now that I think about it, but we all may seem weary from the daily battle.

Brian had a small ‘open house’ in one of the training rooms some time ago, displaying artifacts from SWA’s past. I went because I wanted to meet this guy that was writing about the history of my Company. Writing about things I had lived and worked and laughed and worried about, he rekindled those times for me in his Flashback Fridays. He brought to life events I thought I had long forgotten and was now reading and laughing about how crazy we were “back in the day”.

I didn’t know Brian on a deep personal level, but knew him well from the numerous emails we exchanged about “any idea who this is?” “Dan do you recognize this picture, this station, these folks? What the heck is this?”  When I didn’t know or wasn’t sure, I gave him other Employees still working here who might know the answer.

What I enjoyed the most was his writing and passion and the comments from Employees so grateful to learn about how SWA got from three planes to where we are today. So many Employees commented on so many of his posts I often wondered if he knew just how much he was appreciated.  I certainly hope so.

The stories and information about our past, the history lessons, it was almost like he was teaching a class on Southwest. He was teaching how to appreciate what we have by reveling what it took to get to where we are today.

Brian will be sorely missed; I will miss his emails, and certainly the history lessons in Flashback Friday.

How do you replace a gem like Brian Lusk?

Rest in Peace, Brian.

Dan Johnson #135

Kim Seale, Senior Representative, Customer Relations & Rapid Rewards

How do you write about someone who was a legend to everyone but himself? Some of us are blessed in life to know a few special people who are humble enough that they fail to realize what an impact they’ve made on others. Brian Lusk was just that type of person. I suspect that Brian was much like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, as he went about his life at Southwest Airlines, helping others, being a friend, and sharing his Company Spirit with everyone, completely oblivious to what a huge difference he was making. His knowledge of aviation lore, aircraft details, and the history of every air carrier was encyclopedic in scope; so his transition to the role of Corporate Historian at Southwest was a perfect fit.

I first became acquainted with Brian in May 2006, about a month after reading a small story in the Dallas newspaper about our hometown airline starting an online blog “under the guidance of Mr. Brian Lusk.” At the time, I wasn’t even sure what a “blog” was, but with Southwest’s reputation for a Fun-LUVing Attitude, I had to find out. As a Customer since 1973, my personal and work life often connected with Southwest, so I was excited for the opportunity to connect even more closely. What started as a few swapped jokes with Brian led us to begin an electronic friendship that was deepened through our mutual delight with puns. At Brian’s offline encouragement, my contributions to the Nuts About Southwest! Blog grew in regularity and boldness, since a Customer is in the unique position of being able to defend an airline he LUVs in a way that an Employee could never say in a published forum. The Nuts! online venue expanded significantly under Brian’s Leadership, and he eventually started referring to himself as “Blog Boy.” In appreciation for my frequent and enthusiastic submissions, Brian bestowed the title of “External Blog Boy” on me, which was an honor I wore proudly. We finally met in person, and I came to HDQ for regular visits. Amazingly enough, as I approach my fifth SWAnniversary at this great Company, I still meet Employees who, upon hearing my name will say, “Wait, didn’t you used to be ‘External Blog Boy?’ I read your stuff all the time!”

After a series of corporate layoffs left many folks without a job at my former employer, Brian’s Servant’s Heart kicked into overdrive as he began working to lure me to Southwest. He encouraged me to apply, he wrote a recommendation to the People Department for me, and, knowing Brian, he personally spoke to others on my behalf. There is no doubt that Brian is a big reason that I’m privileged to be a Southwest Airlines Employee. That’s just the kind of person he was: always willing to help a friend.

Will life at Southwest continue without Brian? Absolutely. Will it be the same? Absolutely NOT. Brian has shaped this Company, our Culture, and our Employees in ways that can never be fully measured. Suffice it to say that this is a better place because of our self-professed ‘avgeek’ and that many of us have been enriched by counting him as our friend. Although Brian would not want his beLUVed airline to miss a beat, we all pause to shed a tear and say goodbye to someone who has left far sooner than we would have wished.

With a sad heart from the Employee/artist formerly known as External Blog Boy

Paula Berg, former Southwest Employee

I had the privilege of working with Brian on the Southwest blog and social media efforts from 2006-2009. We were a good team. I knew a few things about public relations and customer relations. Brian knew that and pretty much everything else.  We were yin and yang.  Actually, more like oil and water. We fought like cats and dogs – especially when it came to the Southwest blog.  We fought about what we should post, when we should post it, what it should say, who should say it. It was good for the development of the blog.  But boy could I get under his skin.  And, he could really zing me with his snarky wit. 

One day, per usual, we had been fighting over email. I had obviously written something that really set him off because within 30 seconds of hitting send, my cell phone was ringing.  I knew he was mad, so I didn’t answer. A couple of days later I arrived back at Southwest Headquarters and walked into his office.  I apologized for making him mad. He apologized for what he said on my voicemail.  I told him I had been too scared to hear it and had deleted it without listening.  He said it was “probably for the best.”  We laughed, hugged, and never fought again.


Despite our playful bickering, I genuinely loved Brian and everything he brought to the table.  He was the model of everything I loved about working at Southwest Airlines.  Aviation was in his blood, he had a sense of humor and knowledge of history similar to Herb’s, he cared about our customers, he was a storyteller, and he was fiercely protective of our company’s history and culture.

To this day, there are only four people whose tweets I have sent directly to my phone: The Wall Street Journal, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, comedian Steve Martin, and Brian Lusk. I will miss his tweets; his puns; his Flashback Fridays; his commentary of Portlandia, SNL, and other current events; and, his affectionate updates on the comfort level of his sweet Bassett Hound, Annabelle.

Annabelle
Annabelle the Basset Hound

Brian and Paula
Brian with former Southwest Employee Paula Berg


Love you, Brian – Paula Berg

Before we close this post with a few photos, I thought it most appropriate to end where we began. In the first ever NUTS post, Brian wrote “We look at this blog as the place where our Employees ‘come out to play,’ and we hope you will join us on the playground…”

Brian sure made this space fun; it was his playground, and I’m happy he shared it with me, and so many others.

And to take a page out from our alma mater’s hymn, Brian, though deeply saddened at your passing, our hearts are filled with joy.

20 Comments

  1. Brian Lusk will be missed dearly. I had the opportunity to meet him while I was a SWA Intern and his passion for the airline industry is admirable. I will always remember his ‘Maryland One’ Southwest Boeing 737 model on his desk. Seeing that model on my first day at Southwest was a clear reminder that I would fit right in. He did a fantastic job of sharing photos and stories of Southwest’s rich history.

  2. (Con’t from immediately preceeding E-transmission) Brian’s height also lended to his being selected as the marching band’s Drum Major – leading it on local parades along Main Street and/or Grand Avenue. Yes, aviation was both Brian’s career and primary interest, but he was also a person of other varied skills, abilities and interests. He was a good friend and will be missed. We may move forward with or lives, but we never forget.

    Herb Jewell

  3. Brooks:

    I am saddened to read about the passing of Brian Lusk. I was introduced to Brian years ago by Monica Van Slate, whom you may recall. Monica always helped me over the phone with Southwest stuff, which she then turned over the duties to Brian to work with me on many things I had questions with regarding Southwest beyond the basics of reservations. Now, I don’t know who I can turn to for help on many of my Southwest questions. I will say, however, that Brian introduced me to Laurel Moffatt (Hope I spelled that correctly). Based on that information, I will call Laurel and see what it is that I can do while I am on a Capitol Corridor Train tomorrow between Sacramento and San Francisco for the meeting of the California Transportation Commission. In being part of many grassroots efforts to save the Sacramento Kings from bolting to Seattle, the news about Brian Lusk has just shocked me. Brian was the biggest reason I became part of the (unpaid) Southwest Family by not only becoming a frequent flyer, but by joining this blog. Please inform Laurel that I will be contacting her shortly, as I don’t know of any other avenue to go by right now.

    Sincerely,

    Mike Barnbaum, Regiatered Public Blogger & Rapid Rewards Member in (SMF)

  4. Brian used to joke that I dragged him into the world of social media but the truth is, Brian and I had a shared love of communications and the strange new world of “web logs” in 2006 intrigued us both. We embarked on the journey together – navigating through the uncertainties, endless questions and ultimately selling through the idea of “Nuts About Southwest”. On April 21, 2006, Brian hit “post” on the first blog and we both sat anxiously at my computer waiting for the first comment. It came and, when we opened it, it was a sequence of four letter words…that started with the letter “f”. Brian and I’s mouths dropped open and then we looked at each other and started hugging and jumping up and down…we had officially entered the blogosphere.

    I left PR for Marketing shortly after the blog launched but I knew it was in the best possible hands….the hands of a man that loved communication, our industry and our airline like no other. Rest in Peace Blog Boy. I love you.

  5. Brian was gracious enough to join us as a guest back in Episode 156 of the Airplane Geeks Podcast. I’ve taken excerpts from the original July 19, 2011 interview with him and created a recording of Brian that runs a little over 11 minutes: http://bit.ly/14dlCIw.

    We’ll miss Brian.

  6. I heard about Brian’s untimely passing Thursday evening from Brian’s Mom, Martha – from whom he inherited his passion for writing (and reading). He inherited his passion for aviation from his Dad, David, who, after piloting B-17 bombers during WWII, worked for Pioneer Airlines – an early local service carrier -and, subsequently, Continental Airlines. Brian & I were best friends from our elementry school years through our undergraduate college days – and kept in touch regularly over the subsequent 39 years through our many career stops. Our families lived a couple of blocks away from each other in a small town just south of LAX. Jetliners had just started flying regularly out of LAX 3-1/2 years early; so, plenty of propliners (piston & turboprop) still frequented LAX. In that less threatening era, we were able to experience quite a bit of the aviation and railroad industries just by looking respectable and by asking the person in change “Can we please see THAT?” Brian was heavily involved in building aircraft models, writing airline and railroad public relations departments for pictures, postcards and related brochures (the LOT – Poland – IL-18 and Viscount postcards were unique acquisitions during that Cold War era) and beginning his aviation library with the first of the British aviation books arriving in SoCal. The best times, however, were when we were able to coax our parents into letting us take our aviation and rail excursions to various points on the compass away from SoCal or Dallas – where Brian’s family later moved. A $.65 full breakfast in snowy Downtown OKC in between a pre-dawn Braniff BAC-111 DAL-OKC flight and a return OKC-FTW journey aboard Santa Fe’s “Texas Chief” was one of those memorable travel moments. So, a lifelong friend has departed too soon. I imagine that his upcoming travels will include that Pacific Airlines Martin 404 “all stops” flight from LAX-SFO that always eluded us. Fair winds and following seas!
    Herb Jewell.

  7. A few years back Brian asked me to share my Naval stories with the blog. I will never forget the time that I came home from deployment and Brian along with my family and other Southwest Airlines employees where there to greet me and welcome me home. Brian created a special memory for my me and my family that day and we will never forget it. I used to ask him if I could be called blog boy but he referred to me as USS BLOG BOY when I was attached to the USS NIMITZ. I will never forget his smile and of course his loving and caring spirit. He will be missed. Rest in peace friend..THANKS FOR THIS MEMORY.

    http://www.blogsouthwest.com/2007/03/21/a-salute-for-uss-blog-boy

    USS BLOG BOY

  8. I’ve enjoyed Brian’s writings in the recent past…his style of writing enabled you to imagine that you were there when it actually happened. In fact if memory serves, he wrote about a period in SWA’s history that I actually experienced, a flight on an SWA Boeing 727…his article refreshed a moment that I almost forgotten, and that was the roar of 727′s engines at the start of the takeoff roll.

    Thank you Brian, you revived an old and happy memory, and I’ll see you on the other side of the river some day.

    Paul In CRP

  9. I grew up in Seattle, WA or what some like to call “Boeing’s Backyard”. Within 30 minutes of my house there were two Boeing production facilities, and one delivery center. I was raised right in the heat of the jet age…the 737NG, 777 and 787 programs have all come to life within my earliest years. It should be easy to guess with all this going on, I am a major airplane nut, or avgeek as we say these days. The most fascinating thing about the aviation industry I’ve come to find isn’t the airplanes themselves…it’s the people just like myself who work within aviation, or simply are fascinated by it, this is a place where everyone is a friend. I’ve been one of the lucky ones who’s been able to travel to see the sights and meet the people, but I will first hand say, Brian Lusk was a rare one, and I don’t think i’ll cross paths with someone so unique ever again.

    I first met Brian in the lobby of the Marriott right next to Midway as we were celebrating the inaugural -800 Warrior One flight that would be leaving the next morning. The funny thing is, I had never heard of an airline corporate historian, making me wonder where Southwest found this guy. As the night when on, I was in total amazement as Brian told story after story of the early airline days, and many unique factoids about Southwest. I was completely fascinated as I sat there, and I know if I had some official Southwest peanuts i’d be eating them up, better yet, he’d be telling me the history probably from when and where they were harvested.

    I don’t have stories dating back ten years when we first met, or passing him in the Southwest hallways, but what I do have are amazing memories from two very special aviation trips. Looking at the calendar, It would be a year next month of how long I’ve known Brian, and I can tell you this, as a huge aviation fan and a distant friend…I am feeling a huge void in my aviation livelihood. I’ll truly miss his smile, compassionate friendship, intelligence, and funny wit. It does make me happy that someone who loved aviation so much has the best view in the world watching airplanes go by all day.

    Rest in aviation paradise my friend.

    Chase Larabee
    Seattle, WA.

  10. Corporate blogs tend to pass from hand to hand – each new generation of owner takes on the success of the prior builders, writers and creators. Brian Lusk didn’t let that happen.

    I remember meeting Brian when Rd2 and the rest of the gang created the Nuts About Southwest Airlines Blog. Eventually, I moved on to new projects. One day, out of the blue I got an email and call from Brian to tell me that Nuts had made into into the Blog Hall of Fame and to thank me for helping make it all possible – he was really excited. I think this was a couple of years after the project had launched. The fact he remembered reflected his love of history and telling the story – the fact that he made the call reflected the fact he was a decent guy. His first post makes me smile.

    When Brian passed-away we lost one of the good guys. Social media is full of celebrity types – heat seeking publicity barons, thinkers not really doers. Brian wasn’t one of them. He breathed the SWA ehtos – decency, hard work, fun. I was lucky enough to work with him for a brief moment in time.

    Wherever you’ve gone mate, safe flight.