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King Bhumibol Adulyadej

By Courtney Ridgel

We are all saddened by the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the ninth monarch of the Chakri Dynasty.  He was also known as Rama IX, and in his memory, we wanted to write up a brief synopsis of his rich life and accomplishments.

The King depicted sailing on a mural near the Grand Palace – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

King Bhumibol was on 5 December 1927, and has the distinction of being the only monarch to have been born in the United States, in Cambridge Massachusetts, as his father was studying at Harvard at the time.  After his family received his certificate, they returned to Thailand for a few years before moving to Switzerland in 1933.  His uncle abdicated in 1935, so Bhumibol’s older brother Ananda became king at nine years old.  Bhumibol attended school in Switzerland and eventually graduated from the University of Lausanne.

Bhumibol often visited Paris while in college, and in Paris he met Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara, the ambassador’s daughter.  She moved to Switzerland to be near Bhumibol when he was hospitalized from a car accident in 1948, and lost the use of his right eye.  Bhumibol and Sirikit fell in love and were married in 1950.  Sadly, Bhumibol’s older brother was killed from a gunshot wound in 1946 and Bhumibol was officially crowned king in 1950, a week after his marriage.

During his youth, Bhumibol developed a keen interest in photography and a love for jazz.  He has played saxophone throughout his life (in addition to the clarinet, trumpet, guitar, and piano), founded a jazz band and performed both in the US and Thailand, and was honored by Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts, the University of North Texas College of Music, and Yale School of Music for his accomplishments and compositions.

A mural outside the Grand Palace depicting scenes from the life of the King – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

Bhumibol was deeply interested in science and technology, and is the only monarch to hold several patents.  His father was a military naval engineer, and Bhumibol also designed and built various sailboats in the International Enterprise, OK, and Moth classes.  He regularly competed in sailboat races with his designs and won a gold medal in the 1967 Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games.  In addition to his musical and engineering talents, Bhumibol was also an author and wrote Phra Mahachanok and The Story of Thong Daeng.

As King, Bhumibol encouraged Thailand to transition to a democratic system, and through the various dictatorships and coups that have taken place since his coronation Bhumibol encouraged peaceful resolutions.  He was outspoken against drug use, and called for a ‘War on Drugs’ in 2002.  Additionally, he has been involved in many social and economic development projects, such as funding an operating a radio station, producing several films, large-scale irrigation projects and rural development, and establishing the Chaipattana Foundation, whose goal is to ‘to provide prompt, timely, and necessary responses to problems affecting the people of Thailand’.

King Bhumibol was the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history, serving for 70 years, and was the seventeenth longest-reigning monarch of all time.  He has been a pillar of stability for his country, and his people love him dearly.  His guidance will be sorely missed.

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