Sumalee Sanguan Viravaidya (Oct 3, 1938 - Mar 28, 2014)
Sumalee was born in Bangkok to a Scottish mother (Isabella McKinnon Robertson) and a Thai father (Samak Viravaidya). "Dr. Ella" and "Dr. Samak" met and fell in love at Edinburgh medical school in the 1920s. Grandmother was one of the first women to study medicine, and "Khun Ta" (Grandfather in Thai) was part of a delegation sent by the Thai royal family to study Western medicine and bring it to Thailand to complement traditional healing practices.
As the eldest child of this extraordinary union, her very birth made Sumalee an inadvertent trailblazer and pioneer. This pattern continued through her life, during which she would become a celebrated journalist and the woman who anchored the equal treatment of women in the Thai constitution. She had a very keen sense of justice and "right versus wrong" and great compassion for the world's underdogs, the poor and the mistreated, a fact she attributed to her years at Saffron Walden, a Quaker boarding school in the UK she attended from age 12.
All accomplishments aside, Sumalee experienced a great deal of loss and sadness in her life. The love of her life, Arthur Daniel Stillman, was killed in Laos in 1969, after only three years together. Widowed at 30 and with a small child (me) to raise on her own, she threw herself into journalism, channeling her despair into writing thoughtful, thought-provoking articles and columns on injustice and other fields where she felt action needed to be taken. Eventually she remarried - a German exchange professor - and had two sons with him, relocating to Germany and effectively ending her career as a writer. After nearly 20 years, the unhappy marriage ended, and Sumalee found herself alone in her early 50s. She would never remarry, instead seeking and finding refuge in spirituality, friends and family. At the time of her sudden death, she was very excited about getting involved in Thailand's anti-corruption movement and other worthy projects through the International Network of Engaged Buddhists with her friend Ajarn Sulak Sivaraksa.
Sumalee is survived by her daughter Larissa, her sons Alexander and Sebastian, and her five grandchildren: Larissa's sons Benjamin and Timothy, and Sebastian's children Julian, Jill and Johan.
The Year of Giving Generously
When my mother Sumalee died, she left a letter decreeing that one-quarter of her estate go to charity. Rather than endowing something big, impersonal and one-off, I decided to make a year-long project of it, and give only to causes that somehow tied in with Sumalee's life. This page will help to serve as a chronicle of the giving journey.