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Cadet Reza Pahlavi in his aircraft
Cadet Reza Pahlavi, a student pilot at Reese Air Force Base in the late 1970s, awaits instructions from the tower prior to taxi.

Iranian crown prince brought a taste of royalty to Lubbock

BY DOUG HENSLEY
For the Avalanche-Journal

Once upon a time.

Wait a minute. That’s no way to start a news story.

Except, perhaps, in the case of this story, which is the tale of a West Texas city and its all-too-brief brush with royalty.

In the summer of 1978, before the words “political unrest” and “Iran” regularly occupied the same sentence, Reese Air Force Base officials learned a special pilot was about to join the ranks of military trainees.

Reza Pahlavi, eldest son of the Shah of Iran, already was an accomplished pilot when he arrived at Reese. According to news accounts, Pahlavi recorded his first solo flight at age 11 and earned his pilot’s license a year later. His $180,000 tuition was paid by his home country’s government, which also purchased a home for him in the Tanglewood addition on the city’s west side.

The crown prince, not yet 18 years old, was suddenly Lubbock’s most well-known resident.

“My focus at that time was on my Air Force training,” Pahlavi said during a telephone interview from his office in the Washington, D.C., area earlier this week. “Most of my time I spent at Reese itself. I had a separate residence that I also stayed at outside of the base.”

Lubbock home of Iran's crown prince
This is the home in West Lubbock that Reza Pahlavi, the crown prince of Iran, lived in while undergoing pilot training at Reese Air Force Base.

Pahlavi used the West Lubbock home as a weekend retreat. Toward the end of his stay in the city, the heavily guarded estate played host to other members of the royal family.

“A lot of people there were concerned about myself, and they were a tremendous boost to my morale,” Pahlavi said, “especially because I was so far away from home. I have encountered many Americans in my life who have been kind and offered hospitality, but the people of West Texas stand apart in my experience. I will always be grateful for that hospitality and will never forget how warm and kind everyone was.”

Dean Shuman, a Lubbock attorney, lived across the alley from Pahlavi during that time and said having the prince as a weekend neighbor was nothing unusual — most of the time.

“We had one occasion that caught our attention,” he recalled. “We had a gathering at our home one weekend evening, and my young son was home at that time. He and one of his friends were taking the trash out to the Dumpster, and they were accosted by guards. They actually had a guard station in the backyard on stilts.”

Despite the security, Shuman had fond memories of his famous neighbor.

“He was very personable and charming,” he said. “I met him on one occasion when we had lunch at the old University City Club.”

Pahlavi indeed was the prince of the city. His every move made news, including a clandestine visit to Rush Elementary, where he gave autographs to students and told them, among other things, that one of his favorite television programs was “Gunsmoke,” according to an A-J article.

“Back then, I was 18,” Pahlavi said. “I am 47 today. At that age, I wanted people to understand it is the person they have to know as opposed to what they represent. That has always been my nature, regardless of circumstances.”

Still, Pahlavi was no ordinary citizen. According to A-J accounts, former President Jimmy Carter called to wish him a happy 18th birthday, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was among those who visited his home.

Pahlavi, who has lived in the Washington, D.C., area since 1986, said the eight months he spent in Lubbock were enjoyable, although his personal life took a sudden turn in 1979 when his father’s government was overthrown, forcing the royal family to flee.

“You must realize those were quite trying and difficult times for myself and my family because of what was going on,” he said.

Iran's Royal Family in 1976
Iran’s Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, right , is shown in this 1976 file photo with his mother, Farah Diba, empress of Iran, and father, the shah of Iran.

As Iran’s monarchy disintegrated, Pahlavi’s pilot training was accelerated. He finished four months sooner than normal. Reese officials said part of the reason was his proficiency as a pilot upon his arrival. Nevertheless, his life and the lives of his family members were in jeopardy. He and others in the royal party left West Texas for good in mid-March 1979.

Even in this stressful moment, Pahlavi’s regal manner came through. His final act before boarding the plane was to hand an A-J reporter an open letter to the city, thanking citizens for the treatment he received here.

“I remember how people were concerned for me,” Pahlavi said. “They were beyond concerned; they were even protective. People in the neighborhood wanted to stand in line and create a barricade for me. They adopted me as one of their own. It is one of many things I am grateful for and will never forget.”

Pahlavi lived in Morocco and Egypt and has lived in the U.S. since 1984. He earned a political science degree from Southern California, according to his biography.

The home, meanwhile, became a source of dispute. When the prince left town, it was official property of the Iranian government. It stayed in legal limbo for years before coming back on the market.

“Those are memories and moments that are etched in stone, a part of my life,” Pahlavi said. “Becoming a pilot was something I was very much focused on. It was a unique and special experience for me. The individuals there in Lubbock were very cordial, very warm, very friendly. What can I say? True Texans.”

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