The Royal Philanthropist: Remembering Princess Galyani Vadhana of Thailand

Teerin Julsawad

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In Thailand, a significant milestone is being celebrated — the centenary of the birth of Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra. Princess Galyani Vadhana was a profound figure, the elder sister of two Thai monarchs and the aunt of another, but her royal lineage was merely the starting point of an impactful life that reached far beyond the palace.

In a time of progressive thinking and modernization, the Princess emerged as a champion not only for education and the arts, but also as a pioneering force, shaping the future of Thailand and leaving a legacy that still resonates today.

The early years

Born on May 6, 1923, in London, Princess Galyani Vadhana was the daughter of Prince Mahidol of Songkla and Princess Srinagarindra, and the elder sister to King Ananda Mahidol (King Rama VIII) and King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX). Raised in a family that cherished education, she laid a strong foundation for her intellectual pursuits early on. 

After spending her formative years in Switzerland, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the prestigious The University of Lausanne.

Excellence in academia

Wax Figures of Somdech Phra Srinagarindra Boromarajajonani and Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana at Thai Human Imagery Museum
Source: dreamloveyou / Shutterstock.com

Upon returning to Thailand in 1950, Princess Galyani Vadhana began her illustrious academic career. Her love for the French language and culture led her to become a Professor of French at Chulalongkorn University. For nearly a decade, she worked to shape the minds of her students, instilling in them an appreciation for the linguistic nuances and cultural depth of French society.

In 1969, she took up a professorship at Thammasat University, where she served as the Head of the Department of French Language and Literature, and Director of Foreign Language Teaching, where she was instrumental in expanding the reach and impact of French studies in Thailand.

Her voracious appetite for reading and her talent for writing were not confined to the realm of academia alone. In addition to her teaching career, she made significant contributions as an author and translator. Her published works include translations, poems about the royal family, and tourist guidebooks, some of which have become well known in Thai society. Her writing added another layer to her already considerable influence, broadening the horizon of Thai literature and inspiring future generations.

Her dedication to the academic realm culminated in an Extraordinary Professorship of Thammasat awarded to her by King Rama IX in 1978. This recognition highlighted her unique contribution to Thailand’s educational sphere, enhancing its reputation internationally and setting the stage for future scholars to follow.

Princess Galyani Vadhana’s advocacy extended beyond humanities to encompass scientific and mathematical education. She recognized these fields as crucial to individual and national development. Her push for enhanced focus on these disciplines in Thai schools marked the beginning of a knowledge-based society, encouraging innovation and driving economic growth.

In addition, her instrumental role in Thailand’s participation in international science and mathematics olympiads expanded the horizons of Thai students, introducing them to global academic standards and fostering their potential to become world-class innovators. Her continuous support education, and the ripple effects are seen today in a generation of professionals contributing to various STEM sectors, aiding Thailand’s development on a global scale. Her legacy lives on, testifying to the transformative power of education in nation-building and opportunity creation.

Lifelong dedication to public health and social welfare

While her academic accomplishments are noteworthy, Princess Galyani Vadhana’s dedication to public service sets her apart. She served on the boards of more than 60 organizations, touching countless lives and improving societal conditions across the country.

One of her most significant contributions was in the field of public health. She was a patron to the Princess Mother’s Medical Volunteer Foundation (🇹🇭), the Thanyarak Breast Foundation (🇹🇭), the Kidney Foundation of Thailand (🇹🇭), and the Foundation for Slum Child Care, among many other organizations. Her tireless efforts extended to initiatives started by her mother, Princess Srinagarindra, ensuring their continuity and effectiveness.

She was particularly attuned to addressing the needs and development challenges faced by underprivileged communities in Thai society. Not only did she actively involve herself in their welfare, but she also utilized her position to amplify their struggles and aspirations.

Her work was marked by a sustained emphasis on promoting cultural diversity and fostering intercultural dialogue. This was evident in her personal visits to sites of global importance, which further highlighted her commitment to multiculturalism and global understanding.

Princess Galyani Vadhana’s vast body of work truly underscored her commitment to social justice and equitable development, earning her a beloved place in the hearts of her people.

A patron of the arts

Princess Galyani Vadhana Monument at the Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music
Source: Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music Facebook page

Princess Galyani Vadhana’s passion for arts was evident in her many endeavors. A lover of music, she supported various classical music foundations and was instrumental in promoting musical events, appreciation, and education in Thailand. 

Her commitment to the arts saw the establishment of the Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music (🇹🇭), a conservatory that nurtures young Thai talent and exposes them to international music standards.

A legacy remembered

Princess Galyani Vadhana passed away on January 2, 2008, at the age of 84. But her legacy lives on, as does the profound impact of her work in Thai society and beyond. Her passion for service, her dedication to the advancement of culture, education, public health, and her unwavering love for her people, make her a truly distinguished figure, deserving of the international recognition she received from bodies like UNESCO.

In 2021, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) approved a resolution by UNESCO to include Her Royal Highness in its list of the world’s eminent persons for her remarkable contributions to culture and learning. Described as a tireless advocate in a royal family already beloved for its devotion to improving the lives of the Thai people, her extensive portfolio on public health, social, educational, and cultural programs highlighted her commitment to uplifting society. Her work earned her a rightful place among the global personages recognized for their extraordinary societal contributions.

The celebration of the life and legacy of Princess Galyani Vadhana is more than just a tribute to her profound contributions. It is a reminder of her championing spirit that laid foundations in many aspects of Thai society, creating opportunities and empowering others to achieve their full potential.

Remembering Princess Galyani Vadhana is to remember a life dedicated to service, an example of nobility beyond titles, and an embodiment of the beautiful marriage between intellect and compassion.

Her life’s work continues to inspire, and her influence remains deeply woven into the fabric of Thai society. The centenary of her birth offers an opportunity to reflect on her remarkable life and celebrate the lasting impact she has had on Thailand.

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Teerin Julsawad

An NYU and Columbia alum, Teerin spent a vibrant decade immersed in NYC life, with a stint at The New Yorker for good measure. Now he stirs his creative pot in Bangkok, mixing journalism, design, and digital marketing into an enticing concoction, always keen on forging meaningful connections through his craft.

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