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Southwest Airlines' First African-American Chief Pilot Retires

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - In Dallas and Chicago today, Southwest Airlines is celebrating one of its own in a very special way. Louis "Lou" Freeman was the Dallas based airline's first African American pilot, and he's retiring today after 37 years.

"I'm just overwhelmed with all of the outpouring," said Capt. Freeman, while sharing hugs and handshakes at Dallas' Love Field just prior to his retirement flight.

But on a day that should have been all about him, Capt. Freeman continued to deflect praise-- calling his history making career, a simple matter of will.

"If I had put race as a barrier to say, 'oh, well, I'm gonna be the first, there's never been one, might not ought to try to jump over that hurdle', I wouldn't have. It's too easy to always stop if you put that kind of stuff in your head."

Although his place in aviation history is assured, Capt. Freeman was humble and grateful to have been able to serve.

"I was raised to think that I was as good as anybody; but, better than nobody... and that's how I still feel. I can do anything that I put my mind to, that I put my heart into."

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And it was quickly apparent as the gate filled with family, friends and colleagues, that Capt. Freeman had a heart for others.

"You paved the way for so many of us," said a flight attendant who had clearly engaged in some scheduling horse trading in order to join him on his sunset flight, "and I'm just thankful." And then as the tears came, a quick admission: "I said I wasn't gonna do that."

The gratitude and respect was apparent, with colleagues insisting that in spite of his history making success, Capt. Freeman was a man who was always reaching back.

"Just to be in his presence," added fellow pilot Capt. Tyrone Ward, "it doesn't matter, black white or whatever, he paved the way for a lot of people to do what they want to do and love."

Now, the love of his life for nearly 34 years is ready for him to join her in retirement.

"Travel!" exclaimed Stephanie Woodfork, M.D., the captain's wife. "We're going to travel. And he's going to sit in the back with me," she added with a laugh.

But, before the canons could douse the plane with the ceremonial salute, CBS11 reporter Robbie Owens asked the man of the hour how he wanted to be remembered. And it was the question that suddenly filled his eyes with tears.

"Hopefully," he started, and then paused when the emotions of the moment threatened to overwhelm, "you guys are tearing me up!" He added with a laugh. And then, simply this, "Hopefully, I set a good foundation. I set a good example, it's not hard to do. But, you've got to have your heart into it."

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