Vol. II No. 15 Saturday 12 April - 18 April 2003
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Weekly Local Biography

 Diether von Boehm-Bezing

 

One of Lufthansa’s key men in Asia was Diether von Boehm-Bezing. Now retired, he has settled in Chiang Mai and can look back on a life where he attended more wars and revolutions than most civilians could ever imagine.

He was born in Germany, but with the advent of hostilities moved to Austria to his grandfather’s farm. Money was scarce after the war and Diether had to work hard on the land with his father and grandfather. It was at this time that his father suggested that 17-year-old Diether should study agriculture, which he did at the Thuern Agricultural College. “It was an acceptable decision to me and my parents.” However, farming did not sit all that well with Diether as he grew up, and by the time he was 22 he applied for a scholarship to go to America to study Business Administration. “My father did not like it at all. I think it was a big disappointment for him.”

He did go to the US, despite the parental opposition, and studied in Philadelphia, helping to support himself with odd jobs in gardening and nurseries, so his agriculture diploma was not totally wasted.

After graduation he began work in a German travel agency office in Philadelphia and became friendly, through business, with the manager of Lufthansa in that city. He was enjoying the travel business and his friend in Lufthansa got the young man a position as a sales representative with the airline in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1962 his connection with SE Asia began, when he came out to visit the Lufthansa office in Bangkok, where his previous boss from Atlanta had taken over. “I was absolutely fascinated by Bangkok at that time.” So much was that fascination that he asked if there were any jobs open in Asia, formally applying through the Hong Kong office of the airline.

He was rewarded with the position of 2IC in India which he took in 1963, and 12 months later when the manager for India became ill, Diether became the country manager. He was just 31 years old.

He remained in India for 4 years, and then he scored the position he really wanted. Manager for Thailand, that posting also covering Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Burma.

At that time, the Vietnam War was escalating, but for Lufthansa it was big business. With offices in Vientiane and Saigon, Diether was a regular commuter. Air America pilots would fly to Europe first class for their regular 10 day vacation each month and the German hospital ship in Danang changed medical staff every six months.

Diether even availed himself of the opportunity to get in the co-pilot’s seat with an Air America sortie over Laos. The plane had been fitted with a steel plate under his seat, just as a confidence booster! Incidentally, the connection with Air America did not end there - Hollywood shot a movie about the (in)famous airline, starring Mel Gibson, at Dieter’s Chiang Mai house many years later!

When the fall of Vietnam occurred in April 1975, Diether was there too, evacuating German Embassy officials and families from Saigon. “It was absolute chaos. It was a mess. It was pretty panicky with the airport under fire. It was a harrowing experience.” And who said ‘desk jobs’ are dull!

After the excitement of Saigon, was it a relief to be sent to the relatively sleepy Beirut in July of that year? Unfortunately, 2 months later they had their civil war. By March 1976 Lufthansa had stopped flying in the region and Diether had to be taken out of the country in a convoy of foreigners, under an escort supplied by the PLO’s Yasser Arafat!

In 1977, Lufthansa took pity on Diether and gave him a plum posting. “You have done a good job,” he was told. “You will now be transferred to Tehran, the most profitable office for Lufthansa world-wide. You will never have empty seats on any flight.”

Students of recent history will no doubt remember that in 1978 came the revolution, though Diether and Lufthansa hung on, but by 1982 Diether had to leave. He had become known in the industry as “the guy who closes all the offices”!

He returned to Bangkok and stayed for another seven years, much longer than is usual for Lufthansa managers, but then volunteered to go to Indonesia, probably to ensure they didn’t send him to another idyllic destination like Iraq!

After 4 years in Indonesia he took early retirement, and he and his Thai wife returned to the kingdom. They bought some land in the Mae Rim district overlooking the Ping River and built a small Thai house. Bangkok had just become too polluted and too westernised for the (once westerner) Diether.

He admits to having changed over the years. “To an extent I have become Asian in my thinking. I am now a Buddhist. Buddhism is very peaceful. You are not forced to do all kinds of things. You can make your own decisions and it gives me peace of mind.” There was no getting away from the fact that Diether comes across as a man at peace with himself and in harmony with his environment.

One part of his past life he has definitely brought with him to Chiang Mai - his training in agricultural science was not in vain. He has 10,000 square metres of landscaped gardens where he tends to his collection of rare plants and flowers.

While in Bangkok in the 70’s he founded the first vintage car club in Thailand, but these days he owns a Land Rover, a much more practical mode of transport for the North.

There is no doubting that this man is enjoying his life in retirement. He goes to Europe for two months every year and has frequent regional trips to Thailand’s neighbouring countries. And when not visiting friends, they are visiting him here. To be so content is an ambition we all should strive to achieve.


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