Thomas Sweeney

[ Age 76 ] The Calvert Hall graduate, a marathon runner, was a commercial airline pilot for more than three decades.

December 23, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Thomas J. Sweeney Sr., a retired airline pilot and marathon runner, died Dec. 16 of complications from a heart ailment at St. Joseph Medical Center. The longtime Glen Arm resident was 76.

Mr. Sweeney was born in Hazleton, Pa., and moved to Baltimore with his family in 1942. He was a 1948 graduate of Calvert Hall College High School, where he lettered and played varsity basketball, lacrosse and football.

Playing quarterback earned Mr. Sweeney the nickname of "Mighty Atom" because of his somewhat diminutive stature. In 1947, his playing earned him a McCormick Unsung Hero Award.

While working his way through the University of Baltimore, he was co-captain of the lacrosse team.

After graduating in 1952, he entered the Air Force's air cadet program, and he became an officer and pilot. In 1956, Mr. Sweeney went to work as a pilot for United Airlines.

"I've known him since I was 14, when we met at a dance at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church. We've been joined at the hip since that time," said his wife of 53 years, the former Juanita G. Schline. "He loved flying and he used to take me to Municipal Airport and Friendship Airport to watch planes."

During most of his career with United, Mr. Sweeney was based at what is now John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, and commuted regularly to work there from his Glen Arm home.

A popular pilot, Mr. Sweeney was often requested for charter flights.

"He flew the New York Giants, the Orioles, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan before he became president," Mrs. Sweeney said. "He was easygoing and had a great personality."

Mr. Sweeney never had an accident during his 34-year career with United.

"I'm sure he had some harrowing tales, but he didn't tell them to me. When he came home and took off his uniform, all he wanted to do was relax," she said.

Mrs. Sweeney, who flew with her husband only one time, recalled a flight to Las Vegas.

"His co-pilot's wife was along as well. The flight was a little rough, and we noticed a man nearby who was a real white-knuckle flier," Mrs. Sweeney recalled.

"We said, `Don't worry, our husbands are in the cockpit and flying the plane.' And he said, `I hope you have happy marriages.'"

For the final year of his career, Mr. Sweeney flew DC-10s from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to Hawaii. He retired in 1990.

He developed a love for running, and when between flights would go out for runs with fellow crew members or by himself. Mr. Sweeney completed six marathons and enjoyed the activity until he was in his 70s.

An HO-gauge model railroader, Mr. Sweeney enjoyed modeling the Lehigh Valley Railroad and its operations in the anthracite coal fields near his boyhood home in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Sweeney liked spending summers at a second home in Ocean City.

He was a 35-year communicant of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Hydes, where a funeral Mass was offered Wednesday.

Also surviving are two sons, Thomas J. Sweeney Jr. of Columbia, S.C., and Michael P. Sweeney of Phoenix, Baltimore County; a daughter, Nancy M. Meeder of Phoenix, Baltimore County; a sister, Margie Webster of Towson; and two grandchildren. Another daughter, Marianne P. Sweeney, died in 1980.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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