It is difficult to express what the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej means to Thailand and its people. I have been trying to find an analog in Western culture and history, and with perhaps the exception of Princess Diana or possibly President John F. Kennedy, I find myself coming up short. Even those examples pale in comparison, as many of us are too young to remember or know how their deaths impacted the general public.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej was so revered because he was more than a monarch.
He was a father figure, a role model, an inspiration, and a protector. He defies comparison in Western culture because no one in our recent history is so loved by people across the political spectrum, regardless of beliefs or ideologies, and the love and respect for him spans multiple generations. He has been the single constant force for harmony and unity, since Truman’s first term as American President. He has seen Thailand through the Cold War, through the Vietnam War, through the threat of communism, through coups and elections, through peace and times of incredible instability. In all that time, he lead through his example of boundless compassion, self-sacrifice, devotion to his people and his country, and a commitment to thoughtful, sustainable, and ethical progress. He was instrumental in bringing democracy to his country and he developed over 3,000 projects designed to help the poorest people rise up out of poverty, in harmony with the environment. He was often seen, with camera and notebook in hand, traveling to the poorest and most remote regions of Thailand, talking with people about their challenges and their needs, listening to them, and then devising innovative ways to help. He broke with traditions and empowered his people make change on their own terms, and they remain forever grateful.
In his youth, he never expected to be king.
It was only after his brother’s untimely passing that the right to the crown passed to King Bhumibol when he was just 18. He gave up his love for science and education to study law and political science so that he could better serve his people. He delayed his coronation until the age of 23, when he had completed his studies.
He was once quoted as saying after his brother’s death:
“I had never thought of becoming a king. I only wanted TO be your younger brother”.
To the people of Thailand, he was more than a king. For 70 years, he was the embodiment of all that was good in the world. He was a foundation of stability, a guiding light of moral authority, and the beacon of hope and grace.
We pray his legacy lives on, in perpetuity.
Photo credit: Tatrawee Harikul
Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness. She is half American, and half Thai.