That’s where I typically find him, regaling his breakfast mates with tales of his life as a pilot, his time as Camp Hill mayor and, for the past few years, his adventures on the high seas.
Some people refer to Thieblemont as Camp Hill’s renaissance man, but I don’t know. I just find it fascinating that he’s been able to squeeze so much living into one lifetime.
Thieblemont grew up in New York, went to Catholic high school and attended the New York Institute of Technology, graduating with a degree in communications and broadcasting.
“In high school, I received my pilot’s license at the tender age of 17 and went on to get a commercial pilot’s license and flight instructor’s rating,” he said. “It was kind of funny because I couldn’t drive a car in New York until I turned 18. So, I would need friends to drive me to the airport, then I could give them a plane ride.”
Thieblemont graduated from college in 1967, intent on going into broadcasting, but he continued to teach flying. One day, he saw a brochure announcing that TWA, United and Pan Am were all recruiting pilots. He applied to each of them and was offered employment by all three. TWA presented the earliest class date, so he took a job there in May 1968.
In his long pilot’s career, he had many unique experiences, but one especially stood out.
“The shah of Iran was building up his domestic cattle herd so he contracted with TWA to bring cows to Iran,” he said. “We flew Boeing 707 cargo planes twice a week from the U.S. to Iran with 88,000 pounds of pregnant Herefords.”
“When we arrived in Tehran at nine in the morning, it was already hot so we had to offload the cattle quickly so they wouldn’t die. When we opened the cargo door, hundreds of gallons of cow urine poured out. After the cows were off the plane, we hosed out the cargo area and loaded 88,000 pounds of strawberries and flew them to Paris.”
Soon, the overwhelming aroma of strawberries filled the cockpit air and, to this day, he said, the smell of strawberries brings back one of the strangest days of his life.
Thieblemont flew for TWA until American Airlines bought the carrier in 2001. After four years with American, he retired in 2005 with almost 38 years of experience.
A long-time Camp Hill resident, he had made a name for himself in the borough through volunteer work, which included developing the police department website. Then the position of mayor came open.
“The job of mayor became available due to some mistakes by the incumbent,” he said. “Six of us applied for the remainder of his term. The interview process narrowed the field, and finally I was appointed to serve until the next election. At that time, I ran for the position and was elected to finish the remainder of the four-year term.”
As the full-time mayor of the borough of almost 8,000 residents, Thieblemont had “a multitude of responsibilities.”
“I set up a formal welcoming program and tried to personally meet and greet all new residents to the borough,” he said. “I also started a recycling center for things such as batteries, computers, etc. Then I developed a group of volunteers who would be on call to cut grass, shovel snow or run errands for seniors and disabled folks.”
Of course, he had more mundane mayoral duties, as well. He performed weddings and presented awards at various events and ceremonies. He acted as the borough ombudsman, giving speeches and making presentations. He even got some national publicity when, in 2008, he switched political parties so that he could vote for future President Barack Obama in the Democratic primary.
In 2009, having completed one full term, he decided it was time to move on. So, he didn’t run again.
Shortly after retiring as mayor, Thieblemont and his wife took a 12-day cruise to the Caribbean. As they were leaving Baltimore harbor, the cruise director made an announcement that the person scheduled to make presentations was sick.
“Since I’d given a number of talks on a variety of subjects to groups in central Pennsylvania, I offered to substitute with talks on astronomy and Antarctic exploration,” he said. “The cruise director was thrilled. So, I put together a quick PowerPoint presentation, since I didn’t bring any of my computer talks with me.”
That evening, Thieblemont presented his talk in one of the theaters, and the house was packed. After the talk and Q&A, the cruise director told him how much he had enjoyed the presentation and asked him to do others.
“I have been giving talks on various cruise ships ever since,” he said.
So, when you take your next cruise, don’t be surprised to see a picture of the former mayor in the brochure, with a blurb that reads:
“Join the M/S Paul Gauguin’s cruise as a true Renaissance Man offers a series of lectures on topics as diverse as aviation, astronomy, Antarctic exploration, optical illusions and computer graphics.”
That’s just Camp Hill’s Lou Thieblemont, enjoying his post-, post-retirement.