CJ Bostic, a Southwest Airlines legend, daughter of 'The Great RJ'

Mar. 30—PLATTSBURGH — CJ Bostic's legacy and legend ripples still after her death at 73 from myeloma cancer, a cancer of the plasma cells, in 2022.

Out in the world, she was known as Southwest Airlines first Black flight attendant, but here in Plattsburgh she was Charlene Jenkins, the firstborn of Shedrick "Rickey" Jenkins, "The Great R.J.," and his late wife Marcille "Connie" Jenkins.

They and their family — CJ, Larry Charles, Ricardo "Rico" and Michelle — came here when the Korean War and Vietnam War veteran was assigned at Plattsburgh Air Force Base during his last stint that ended after 21 years and six months in the military.

Rickey, who is a resident at Meadowbrook Healthcare, turns 94 on April 26.

"Everybody knows my daddy in Plattsburgh," Ricardo, an Allen, Texas retired healthcare industry professional, said.

"The story begins in Lockhart, Texas where she was born April 12, 1948. She was my older sister. Dad was stationed there. Mom was a just a country girl that was born and raised there in Lockhart. My sister came back to Texas to live my mother's sister. CJ really didn't live in Plattsburgh. She came back to Texas to live with my aunt, my mother's sister, and became a model. She was one of the first Black models for Neiman Marcus. That's how they discovered her, Southwest Airlines."

Before she joined Southwest Airlines, Bostic also modeled for Rothschild and went to college in New Jersey.

In 1972, CJ, 23, joined the Dallas-based airlines' third class of flight attendants in the company founded by Herb Kelleher and Rollin King, whose "The Texas Triangle" vision was cheap, short flights between Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston.

A year after joining Southwest, CJ and fellow flight attendant Deborah Franklin made an appearance on ABC's "The Dating Game." It was great branding for "the love airline," which flew out of Dallas Love Field Airport, and issued tickets from "love machines," and served "love bites" and "love potions," snacks and drinks, in flight, according to a 2021 Texas Monthly article by Joseph Guinto.

Though CJ was blazing her career, she returned to Plattsburgh when Ricardo graduated from Clinton Community College.

"My parents house is right there across from the Field House," he said.

"I didn't know she was coming. When I got home, my bags were packed to move to Texas. I didn't know that I was moving. I was like why do you got my bags packed? My sister says, 'Because it's time for you to grow up now. It's time for you to leave home.' I was 19 or 20. I was like I'm not leaving. She said, 'Oh yes, you are.' She had that kind of power over me."

The next thing Ricardo knew he was on a plane heading to Texas. CJ had a job lined up for him as a baggage handler at Southwest.

"I lasted about five years," he said.

"I was showing up late to work, and I thought nobody can touch me. My sister helped get this company get off the ground. I thought I was untouchable and got my butt fired. I ran to her saying, 'They fired me. They can't do that.' My sister looked at me, and says, 'Oh, well. That's how it goes. Everybody has to go by the same rules. Go find another job.' She was always by the book. Always. She had a power. People would come up to me — pilots, flight attendants, gate agents — they said she was the reason why their lives got changed because she gave them an opportunity. It was always so humbling. Anytime she walked through the airport, everybody wanted to take a picture with her."

It didn't change whether CJ was in Chicago, Miami, or Denver. Southwest employees wanted to take photographs with her.

"They would tell me the stories about how she impacted that company, and that she gave them hope and she was the face of Southwest," he said.

"The new president says if we can bottle what she represented and make everybody drink, we would be the perfect airline."

CJ won the Founders Award.

"They called her 'The Original,'" Ricardo said.

"They threw her a 50th anniversary party and 6,000 employees showed up here before she passed away. They threw her a party that everybody will remember at Southwest. She got two proclamations. She got one from the city here in Dallas. On her birthday, it's CJ Bostic Day. When they did that party for her, they came out — pilots, flight attendants, gate agents, gate ticket counters, people that push wheelchairs."

CJ passed away four years after her cancer diagnosis and was preceded in death by her brother Larry Charles, who served 20 years in the U.S. Army.

"The new president came up and told a story at her funeral and said she was the only employee that made him nervous because she had such a power in that airlines," Ricardo said.

"Pilots wouldn't take off until she said it was time. She was highly, highly, highly respected throughout the whole entire industry. Her funeral was viewed online throughout the whole entire company. Thousands of people got to see her funeral. We had it at the biggest church here in Texas because I knew that there was going to be a ton of people that would want to come. But they limited it to 500 because they didn't want 5,000 there."

CJ is buried in Lockhart in Hooks Cemetery next to her mother, who passed away 35 years ago from ovarian cancer.

"She was very close to my mom and my dad," Ricardo said.

"When my mother passed away, it broke her. Because my mom was the one that laid the belt on her to make her the woman she became. That's the story of my older sister, and it's still coming. It hasn't stopped. They just wrapped up her estate. She gave half a million dollars to Feed the Hungry, Doctors Without Borders, Mercy Ship, and another one. She left half a million for those charity groups. They all got a good pay day."

CJ was "Auntie" to eight.

"My kids and my sister's kids were her kids," Ricardo said.

"She never had kids. She just had a big heart. She gave, she gave, and she gave. She did good, and Dad is proud of her."

College scholarships were named in her honor in Alabama and Georgia.

"Southwest did one for her," Ricardo said.

"They did one for her here at a nursing school in Dallas. It's at a community college."

Lockhart, her birthplace, also issued a proclamation.

"My sister got a training plane named in her honor about eight months ago," Ricardo said.

"It has her picture inside and her initials on the outside of the plane. It's a training simulator that pilots and flight attendants can train in. It's like the newest training plane like Tesla. It's state-of-the-art. Thousands of flight attendants will be trained. They dedicated it in her honor. They had a big old ceremony about 500 people showed up when they dedicated that plane in her honor. It does everything. It simulates rain. It simulates if you're in a storm. It simulates everything. My sister empowered so many employees and opened the door for so many people."

Email: rcaudell@pressrepublican.com