The Thai Nation is in mourning for Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana (เจ้าฟ้ากัลยา"ิวั'นา), who passed away at 02:54 am on the morning of January 2nd 2008, at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok after a battle with cancer. She was 84.
Her Royal Highness was a rare gem indeed. Elder sister of two kings of the Chakri dynasty she was recognized as a patron of the arts, culture and countless charities. She was an accomplished educator, linguist and even held a pilot’s licence. Like her brothers, H.M. King Ananda Mahidol (King Rama VIII, who passed away in 1946) and the reigning monarch H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX), Her Royal Highness commanded love and respect from Thai’s across the country.
The Thai general public admired her quiet, down-to-earth persona, low-key royal grace and like her mother, H.R.H. the Princess Sri Nagarindra (Princess Mother) (สมเ"็จพระศรีนครินทรา บรมราชชนนี), her dedication to public health and welfare, while the academia had great respect for her intellect and her gift for knowledge and teaching.
Tranquil and regal in nature, the Princess was one of the few Thai women of her generation who received a western education. She graduated from Lausanne University in Switzerland with degrees in both science and liberal arts and in her youth enjoyed adventure and challenge, with skiing, horse riding and flying being among her early passions.
H.R.H. Princess Galyani Vadhana was born on 6th May 1923 in London, England, the eldest daughter of H.R.H. Prince Mahidol of Songkla (เจ้าฟ้ามหิ"ลอ"ุลยเ"ช กรมขุนสงขลานครินทร์), the sixty-ninth son of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V and the Princess Mother (then known as Mhom Sangvalya). On her birth certificate issued in England, the Princess’ given name was recorded as “May”. She was later bestowed the royal name Her Serene Highness Galyani Vadhana (Mhom Jao Galyani Vadhana) by H.M. King Vajiravudh, Rama VI. Then in 1927, his successor H.M. King Prajadhipok, Rama VII elevated the little princess to “Her Highness”. She became Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana in 1935, when King Rama VII abdicated and Princess Galyani’s younger brother ascended the throne as King Ananda Mahidol.
On the 1st July 1925, at the age of two, she moved with her family to Germany, where her brother H.M. King Ananda Mahidol was born on 20th September of that same year.
In 1926, her parents travelled back to Siam to attend the funeral of H.M. King Vajiravudh and the coronation of H.M. King Prajadhipok and in late 1926, the Mahidol family moved to Boston in the United States, where Prince Mahidol studied medicine at Harvard University.
While attending kindergarten in Boston, her family welcomed their youngest member, a baby boy who would later become the world’s longest reigning monarch, the current King, His H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
In 1928, H.R.H. Prince Mahidol graduated from Harvard University and returned to Siam with his family although after less than a month of medical practice at Mc Cormick Hospital in Chiangmai, the Princess’ father passed away. She was just six years old.
Princess Galyani Vadhana was a student at the Ranjini school when the Princess Mother decided to move the family to Switzerland on the advice of their Grandmother, Queen Savang Vadhana. The move was an attempt to protect the young Royal’s from the political instability in the country at that time during which Siam changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.
Tumultuous Thai politics finally caught up with the Royal family when, in 1934, H.M. King Prajadhipok abdicated and the Royal Siam Government invited Prince Ananda Mahidol, then aged just nine years old, to take the throne.
The Princess Mother took great pains to ensure that life remained as normal as possible under the circumstances for her three young children. The young Princess continued her secondary education at Ecole Superieure de Jeunes Filles de la Ville de Lausanne, where her studies included German and Latin.
In 1938, she enrolled at the International School of Geneva and on graduation topped her class and was ranked third in the country overall. In late 1938, she visited Siam with her family. It was the first time H.M. King Ananda Mahidol had set his foot in Siam as monarch.
In 1942, the Princess chose to study Analytical Chemistry for her bachelor’s degree (Dipl"me de Chimie Analytique) at the Lausanne University. Pursuing her interests in liberal arts, she also took courses in Literature, philosophy and psychology (Dipl"mes de Sciences Sociales et P้dagogie).
In 1944, Princess Galyani Vadhana renounced her royal order of precedence in order to marry a commoner, Colonel Aram Ratanakul Serireungriddhi (พันเอกอร่าม เสรีเริงฤทธิ์). The Princess had one daughter with Colonel Aram, Thaan Pu-Ying Dasna Valaya Ratanakul Serireungriddhi (ท่านผู้หญิงทัศนาวลัย รัตนกุล เสรีเริงฤทธิ์), married name of Sorasongkram (ศรสงคราม), was born in Switzerland in 1945.
Since the Princess and her daughter did not appear in the news together often, some assumed they were not that close. But Dasna Valaya said her mother spoke with her “frequently about matters that she could not talk of to anyone else. We consulted each other like mother and daughter. I used to tell her that if there were tasks related to temples or funerals, I would accompany her, because there weren’t many people who liked that sort of work”.
“I always told her if she wanted me to do anything, anywhere, I could leave my work immediately - Mother must come first - but if she had many people around her and she was not lonely, then I wouldn’t go. That’s why people didn’t see us together.”
The marriage between Princess Galyani Vadhana and Colonel Aram ended in divorce and in 1950, when the current King ascended the throne, he reinstated her royal order of precedence.
In 1969, the Princess then married H.H. Prince Varananda Dhavaj (พระองค์เจ้าวรานนท์ธวัช), son of Prince Chudadhuj Dharadilok (เจ้าฟ้าจุ'าธุชธรา"ิลก). They had no children and later also divorced.
A Passion for Education and Social Welfare
After returning to Thailand in 1950, Her Royal Highness became a special lecturer in French language at the Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Arts. She taught French Conversation, French Civilisation and French Literature. She taught there until 1958.
Later as Head of the French Language and Literature Department and as the Director of Foreign Languages at Thammasat University, the Princess helped formulate the curriculum for the French Language and Literature programs and in 1977 founded the Association Thailandaise Des Professeurs de Francais (Association of Teachers of French in Thailand) with the aim of providing a place where French-language teachers and lecturers could meet and exchange experiences to help improve their instruction. During her years at Thammasat, she was also a guest lecturer for Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Humanities.
Due to an increasingly heavy load of Royal duties and despite her love for teaching, the Princess finally resigned from Thammasat in 1976. She continued throughout the years to lend support to various educational institutes as well as several scholarship programs for rural students and gifted young musicians. In fact the Princess was patron to 63 organizations and foundations, covering a myriad of fields including child care, health, education and the arts and the Princess was responsible for channelling and raising millions of baht to fund these organizations and foundations.
Health care was one of Princess Galyani Vadhana’s passions, an apparent effort on her part to continue the lifelong work of her father, Prince Mahidol of Songkla, known as Thailand’s Father of Modern Medicine. When the Princess Mother passed away in 1995, the Princess continued to carry out the Princess Mother’s royal works making trips into the most rugged areas of Thailand to provide health care to the needy without any hint of concern for her own health even though she was by this time at the age when most Thai’s would be happy to retire.
The best known of these programs was the Princess Mother’s Volunteer Doctors Organization. Every year, the Princess travelled with medical doctors deep into the countryside, visiting villages in 51 provinces. The Princess was also known for her work with the Kidney Foundation of Thailand and Prostheses Foundation, which made the Guinness Book of Records in 2006 when it provided 664 artificial legs for 646 people in 11 days to mark the 60th year of His Majesty the King’s reign.
In addition to health care, the Princess diverse interests included patronage of the Thai Cardiac Children’s Foundation: the Foundation for Slum Children; the Green World Foundation; the Elephant Hospital in Lampang; the Anti-Drowsy Driving Campaign; the Promotion of French Language Teaching; the Foundation for the Development of Women in the North and the Thailand Mine Action Centre (TMAC), which had been under her patronage since the year 2000.
By granting her patronage, she worked closely with these organizations to try to ensure their work really benefited people, especially the underprivileged.
The Princess also contributed to the country’s education in various other ways apart from her years as a teacher and lecturer. She sat on a committee to select who should win scholarships from the Office of Civil Service Commission to pursue degrees abroad. She chaired a committee that designed French exams for national entrance tests. Since 1989, the Princess supported students representing Thailand in the Academic Olympiads. She has also granted patronage to the Promotion of Academic Olympiads and Development of Science Education Foundation.
Author, Animal Lover and Cultural Guardian
The Princess was also a respected author. She wrote her first book, Nitaan Sumrub Dek (Tales for Children) when just nine years old and subsequently wrote eleven books on the Royal Family. One of them was “Jao Nai Lek Lek - Yuwakrasat” (Little Royal Member - the Young King”), which she described as “not a book to honor His Majesty. It’s the book an elder sister writes for her younger brother when he is celebrates his 5th cycle birthday on 5 December 1987, so that we together recall our childhood, both sadness and happiness, and share our stories with others”.
Based on her extensive travel experiences she also penned ten travelogues including ‘Bhutan: Green Island on Land’, ‘Is it cold in Siberia?’ and ‘Turkey: Land of the Roman Emperors and Ottoman Sultans’.
While she rarely wrote about herself, the voice readers hear through her books is that of a person who cherished honesty, discipline, happiness and life wisdom above all else.
An animal lover at heart, Princess Galyani Vadhana was particularly fond of dogs and when her favorite dog, Sip Sam, died a few years ago, the Princess founded a fund for the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Chulalongkorn University to care for sick and abandoned animals.
In her honor, a Thai biologist named a new species of crab discovered in Kanchanaburi after her. The crimson crab (Potomon Galyaniae) is known as Poo Pra Pinaang in Thai.
Only female “Grom” of the King Rama IX reign
On 6th May 1995, in the year of the Princess’ sixth cycle and seventy-second birthday, His Majesty the King bestowed upon her the noble title of Grom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra (loosely translated “Princess of Narathiwat”) a traditional Siamese custom dating back to the Ayutthaya period and making her the only female member of the Chakri Royal Family in the reign of King Rama IX to have been bestowed this title.
In announcing the honored title, His Majesty said the Princess was his only elder sister. She had been with him, through good times and bad, since they were very young. She was the one who had won his respect and the one who always supported him with the hope of making him happy. She had represented His Majesty to carry out various royal works and had always taken good care of their mother, which was a great relief to His Majesty. The King also appreciated the great contributions the Princess had done for the people of Thailand through various works.
On June 15th, 2007, the Princess was admitted to Siriraj Hospital where tests revealed she had abdominal cancer. She remained there until her death. Members of the Royal Family went to Sirirjai Hospital on January 1st to be with the Princess and His Majesty the King was with his elder sister throughout her last hours.
H.R.H. Princess Galyani Vadhana is survived by her only daughter, Thaan Pu-Ying Dasna Valaya Sorasongkram (ท่านผู้หญิงทัศนาวลัย ศรสงคราม) and her grandson, Jidas Sorasongkram (จิทัศ ศรสงคราม).