Often called the most hardworking king in the world, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej left a legacy of benevolence, wisdom, and genuine concern for the development of his country and his people.
By Percy Roxas.
‘I wasn’t born in the greatest country in the world, but I was born under the reign of the world’s greatest king,” echoes several memes in Facebook, mirroring the pride and esteem that most Thai people feel about His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Outpouring such as this flooded the social media after the sad news spread that His Majesty, 88, “passed away peacefully at his hospital bed,” ending the longest royal reign ever in the history of the world, and plunging the entire nation in great sorrow.
While many people outside Thailand find the Thais’ love and reverence for their beloved monarch seemingly incomprehensible, those of us who have lived in the kingdom understand fully well why the nation felt such a great loss when His Majesty passed away.
For the beloved monarch was not just a great king, a leader, or a head of state. He was a father to all Thais, the rock that holds the kingdom in times of crises and uncertainly, a pillar of strength and stability — the Soul of the Nation indeed. His death was not only a great loss for Thailand, but also to the world at large, for His Majesty epitomizes the best example of true leadership that any country could aspire to.
The longest reigning monarch in the world – 70 years, 126 days – His Majesty has endeared himself to his subjects because of his deep concern and genuine affection for them beyond the call of royal duties.
In both his personal life and in his royal role, His Majesty was a shining example of a great human being; a beacon of grace, humility, and love; a shining inspiration for all to follow and emulate. Since his accession to the throne at age 18, the king dedicated his life to the betterment of his country and his people. His life’s mission, in His Majesty’s own words: ”My place in this world is being among my people, the Thai people.”
During his long reign, Thailand grew and developed from a sleepy country under a fascist government to one of the most vibrant economies in the region. As a colleague from Bangkok Post describes his reign: “Amid rapidly changing and sometimes turbulent times, the king became a symbol of stability and continuity. Amid moral decline and social divisiveness caused by greed-driven development and money politics, the King was our center of honesty and unity.”
“Indeed, the King has left behind a long list of achievement as a testament to his lifetime devotion to the people,” the same writer succinctly said.
THE EARLY YEARS
His Majesty was born on Dec. 5, 1927 in Cambridge, Massachussetts in the United States, the only Thai king to have been born on foreign soil. At the time, his father, HRH Prince Mahidol, the Prince of Songkhla, was attending Harvard University’s public health program. He was the youngest son of the prince and his wife, Mom Sangwan (later to become HRH Princess Srinagarinadra, the Princess Mother).
The young Bhumibol came to Thailand in 1928, after his father received a certificate from Harvard. His father passed away from kidney failure the following year, when he was just two-years-old.
In Bangkok, the future King attended Mater Dei but in 1953, his mother took the family to Switzerland where he continued his education at the École nouvelle de la Suisse romande in Lausanne.
When his childless uncle, HRH King Prajadhipok, abdicated in 1935, his nine-year-old brother Ananda became King Rama VIII. But the family remained in Switzerland, returning to Thailand only for two months in 1938.
Bhumibol ascended the throne following the death by gunshot wound of his brother, King Ananda Mahidol, on June 9, 1946. But he returned to Switzerland before the end of the 100-day mourning period.
To prepare for his duties as head of state, the King changed his major and enrolled in law and political science — despite his interest in science and technology.
While finishing his degree in Switzerland, the King visited Paris frequently and met Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara, daughter of the Thai ambassador to France, who was soon to become his Queen. A quiet engagement in Lausanne followed on July 19, 1949, and on April 28, 1950, just a week before his coronation, they were married.
Their Majesties were blessed with Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya (former HRH); HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn; HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn; and HRH Princess Chulabhorn Walailak.
His Majesty was crowned King of Thailand on May 5, 1950 and pledged that he would “reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people.”
A KING OF TALENTS
In his frequent travels to the countryside of Thailand, photos always show His Majesty carrying a camera. Indeed, since he was given his first camera in 1934, photography became one of his lifelong passions, and he seldom leaves the Palace without it.
His Majesty is also an accomplished musician. He became a jazz enthusiast in 1942, and plays whenever he has the time, not only for himself but also for the public. His Majesty plays the saxophone like a pro and most of his compositions – 49 in all and included marches, waltzes, and Thai patriotic songs – were mostly jazz swing. He even formed a band so he can share his love for this music genre to his subjects regularly.
His Majesty is also an accomplished sailor and sailboat designer. In 1967, His Majesty won a gold medal for sailing in the Fourth Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games together with (then HRH Princess) Ubol Ratana, whom he tied for points.
The King has sailed the Gulf of Thailand from Hua Hin to Toey Harbour in Sattahip, covering 60 nautical miles (110km) in a 14-hour journey on the “Vega 1,” an OK Class dinghy he built. As an avid boat designer and builder, he is credited for producing several small sailboat designs.
THE MOST HARDWORKING MONARCH
His Majesty has been described as the most hardworking king in the world, and deservedly so.
Throughout his 70-year reign, the beloved king has initiated thousands of Royal Projects that today continue to be viable and effective in improving the lives of many Thais, especially in the remote parts of the kingdom.
In a speech at the Kasersart University Commencement ceremony on July 19, 1974, His Majesty explained his method: “The development of the country must be fostered in stages. It must start with the construction of infrastructure, that is, the provision of food and basic necessities for the people by methods, which are economic, cautious and conforming with principles. Once the foundation is firmly established, progress can be continually, carefully and economically promoted. This approach will prevent incurring mistakes and failures, and lead to the certain and complete achievement of the objectives.”
His Majesty has been involved in many social and economic development projects since his accession to the throne.
Even at the time when the King’s power was still limited to a ceremonial role (1951–1957), His Majesty produced some films and operated a radio station from Chitralada Palace, using his personal funds.
Between 1958 and 1980, his reputation as the “Development King” grew further, and royally ordered projects were implemented under the financial and political support of the government. Many of these projects were devoted to improving lives in the country’s rural communities.
These royal projects increased even more in the following years as the government allocated budgets and manpower to support the royal initiatives. During this period, most activities involved the development of large-scale irrigation projects in rural areas, such as the Bhumibol Dam.
In 1988, the Chaipattana Foundation was established, and His Majesty started promoting the “sufficiency economy” concept as an alternative to the export-oriented policies adopted by previous elected governments. This “sufficiency economy” was enshrined in the Constitution as a primary goal of the government in 2006, boosting government financial support for royal projects.
His Majesty’s most successful initiatives include the several Royal Agricultural Projects in the North of Thailand.
In the past many areas in the North were planted with opium but the royal projects led the ethnic tribes who planted them back into mainstream farming as experts, specialists, and scientists guided them so they can grow, sell, and earn from vegetables, fruits, flowers, and other products to wean them away from opium-growing. Today, opium growing has been totally eradicated and Royal Project products continue to thrive and increase, and have become available everywhere in the kingdom.
His Majesty, also one of the most traveled Thai kings, has spared no effort to get to know every corner of his kingdom, and meet each one of his subjects as possible. During these visits, he would bring an entourage to study what is needed to help the areas develop, and the lives of its residents improve.
Often, during his village tours, His Majesty brings a Royal Medical Team and his accompanying private physicians accompanying were encouraged to also provide medical care for local residents. In addition, the Royal Household sends letters of support to physicians who volunteer to serve in hospitals in provinces where royal palaces are present.
His Majesty’s royal initiatives are much too many to be listed here in detail. There are thousands of royal initiatives in various areas which His Majesty initiated, inspired, encouraged, or suggested. As of 1998, there were already 2,159 royal development projects initiated by His Majesty and implemented throughout the kingdom.
As Prime Minister Prayuth proudly pointed out when he officially announced the passing away of His Majesty, the king led Thailand to unprecedented development, progress, and modernization, during his long reign. He wasn’t exaggerating.
By the way, His Majesty is also the only Thai monarch to own patents: one for a wastewater aerator named “Chai Pattana” in 1993 and several others on rainmaking, which he obtained since 1955.
For his unprecedented achievements as a working royal – ranging from the overall of the public health and numerous charities to his rural development projects nationwide and his efforts to create for Thailand what he calls a “sufficiency economy” — His Majesty received the United Nations Development Program’s first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award on May 26, 2006.
Before his health declined in 2006, His Majesty was still working on many project research and development studies with an aim to further improve the lives of his subjects.
With his passing away on Oct. 13, Thailand did not only lose the longest-reigning monarch in its history. The world had lost a great king whose intelligence, talents, wisdom, benevolence, and compassion showed us all – by example — how we should help shape the world that we live in today: for the benefit of all.
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej lived his life as a “People’s King” and indeed, to paraphrase a quote from the Bangkok Post, “even in his absence, His Majesty will remain Thailand’s Guiding Light.”