Lt. Col. Larry E. Thigpen, Sr. (USAF – Retired), age 87, passed away on May 19, 2022, in Monroe, Louisiana. Larry lived a long, happy, and healthy life with God, his family, his friends, his community, and his country as the foundation of his life.
Larry was born on March 28, 1935 in Atlanta, Georgia. At age 16, Larry attained the rank of Eagle Scout with Troop 200 in Decatur, Georgia. In 1954, Larry graduated from Decatur High School where he played football and ran track. Larry attended the University of Georgia, Atlanta Division in 1955 and the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia in 1956. Larry was commissioned and received his pilot wings through the Aviation Cadet Program in 1958 at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. While on active duty at Lake Charles Air Force Station in 1960, Larry met and married the love of his life, Era Lee Parks of Monroe, Louisiana. They embarked on a life together as Larry continued to serve our country. Their family grew with the birth of their son, Larry Jr., in 1961 in Lake Charles as well as a daughter, Tracy, in 1963 in Salina, Kansas. After a short station in Waco, Texas, Larry was then stationed at Craig Air Force Base near Selma, Alabama for five years. His next assignment moved him and his family to Columbus, Ohio. Larry left from Ohio to serve in the Vietnam War from 1970-1971, where he flew over 200 combat missions.
In 1972, Larry was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas where not only did he serve as a squadron commander, but he also earned a Bachelors’ Degree in Education from Southwest Texas State University. In San Antonio, Larry became a member of the Free and Accepted Masons ultimately becoming a Master Mason.
His service in the Air Force continued as Larry was assigned to Sheppard Air Force Base, in Wichita Falls, Texas. Larry continued to pursue his education and earned a Master’s Degree in Human Relations from the University of Oklahoma. At Shepherd AFB he was a T-37 Operations Officer in the Foreign Flying Training Squadron, and then commanded the Fixed Wing Division which trained helicopter pilots to transition to fixed wing aircrafts, and lastly he was the Project Officer to establish the Euro-Nato Flying Training Program.
Larry retired from the USAF as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1981, and moved to Sterlington, Louisiana where he soon learned that retirement life was a busy life as he built his family a home. Because there were no fire departments nearby insurance was quite costly for the citizens of Spencer and West Sterlington. He quickly began to seek assistance from the community where they wrote grants and had fundraisers to ultimately build a Volunteer Fire Department from the ground up. He served as their Fire Chief for 30 years. He also continued to fly and helped to expand the Farmerville Airport where he served as the Chairman of Union Parish Airport Authority. He was active with the West Sterlington Water Board of Directors for about two decades having served as president and vice president. During this time he earned his most favorite title, Papaw.
Although the Air Force allowed him to travel the world, he always said there was no place like home, the United States. He always made time for family, and camping was something they did every year. During his semi-retired life, he and his bride spent the better part of their summers in Colorado with their granddaughter, Katlyne. Although Larry received numerous awards and decorations while serving his country the accomplishments of being a husband, father, grandfather, and now great-grandfather were his biggest joys.
Larry is preceded in death by his parents, James G. Thigpen, Sr. and Thelma Odessa Thigpen; brother, James G. Thigpen, Jr.; niece, Paige Thigpen Murillo; and grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan. Larry is survived by his wife of almost 62 years, Era Lee Parks Thigpen; son, Larry E. Thigpen, Jr. and wife Karen Antley Thigpen; daughter, Tracy Thigpen Risser and fiancé, Charles G. Robinson, III; granddaughter, Katlyne Brianne Thigpen Cato and husband, Jason Wayne Cato; great granddaughter, Katherine Elizabeth Cato; aunt, Kathryn L. Oliphant; niece, Kelly Ann Parks-Smith and husband, Justin Smith; niece, Natalie Thigpen Womble and husband, Rick Womble; great nephews, Payton Parks-Smith, Presley Parks-Smith, and Rick Womble, Jr.; and his beloved dog, Gabby.
SATURDAY, JUNE 4, 2022
PARON BAPTIST CHURCH
676 HIGHWAY 2, STERLINGTON, LA 71280
VISITATION WILL BE HELD FROM 9:00 AM UNTIL TIME OF SERVICE.
Memorials can be made to Spencer West Sterlington Volunteer Fire Dept., PO Box 835, Sterlington, LA, 71280.
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