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The late Princess Mother of Thailand

Article - December 5, 2012
King Bhumibol’s mother led an accomplished life with inspiring devotion to her children and the Thai nation
In 1913, Sangwan Talapat was just 13 years old and two years under the minimum age requirement for studying at the Siriraj School for Midwifery and Nursing. But her qualifications more than made up for her age, and the school allowed her to enrol. A scholarship student, she was required to work for the hospital for three years after her graduation in 1916. A year after joining the nursing team there, she was singled out again to further her studies in the United States, and in 1918, Sangwan Talapat joined other Thai students travelling to Boston, Massachusetts.

The Princess Mother later registered for graduate work at Simmons College, a university in the heart of Boston, in nursing and economics. She was a delicate, charming young woman who entered into college life with the eagerness and friendliness of any young student.

At the same time, Prince Mahidol of Songkhla, a member of Thai royalty, though far down the line of succession for the throne of the Thai kingdom, was reading medicine at Harvard Medical School with the idea of returning to Thailand and practice medicine in a Thai hospital. As Sangwan Talapat’s wagon pulled into Boston train station on 21 September 1918, Prince Mahidol welcomed the scholarship students. Sangwan, a commoner, had no idea who Prince Mahidol was. Yet, her presence made a great impact on the young Prince.
The couple wed in 1920 and had three children: Princess Galyani Vadhana, Prince Ananda Mahidol and Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej. Like their father, the royal infants were not in direct line of succession to the throne, and no one thought at the time that 18 years later young Bhumibol would become King of Thailand.

In 1928, Prince Mahidol obtained his medical degree with cum laude, after which his young family returned to Thailand. A little later, Dr Mahidol started his residency at McCormick Hospital in Chiang Mai, in the north of the country, but died of kidney failure within a year.

The grief-stricken young mother, Sangwan took up residence in Bangkok, later moving to Switzerland, where her children continued their studies on the shores of Lac Leman in Lausanne.

The Princess Mother taught her three children in Buddhist principles. Going beyond the meek explanation of what was right and wrong, she gave them reasons with life lessons in terms that children could easily understand. She also taught them that they had a responsibility to help the poor and less fortunate. Again, it was her dual-purpose teaching of morality and rationality that is clearly visible in her son King Bhumibol’s lifelong dedication to the social development of the Thai people and provinces.

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16/09/2013  |  21:27
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The Vadhana family make the best ambassadors for Thailand.