Our last unforgettable visit to Dean Sayre’s home in Vineyard Haven was on Saturday, August 9. I had called him on Wednesday, August 6 and talked with him about our planned visit with my husband, Mana Sanguansook and the King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation officer, Charles Intha. He recognized me on the phone and we planned for a visit. The nurse was a little concerned when she learned that we planned to arrive on the Island on the 10:30 a.m. ferry because he always got up around noontime and could no longer walk a mile. I told the nurse to let him sleep on his normal schedule, and not to awaken him.
Wishing to preserve a good memory of our time together on this trip, we brought a camcorder with us to record our visit. The day of arrival, we missed the 10:30 a.m. ferry and had to get off in Oak Bluffs on the next schedule. We bought lunch for all of us as usual from Oak Bluffs and brought it with us to eat with him and the nurse. When we walked into his home, we saw him waiting for us at the doorway with a happy smiling face. The nurse told us that he had awakened early and waited for us patiently. He kept asking when we would be there. He had asked the nurse every day since Wednesday, “When are the important people coming?” The nurse kept reassuring him, “Saturday, today is not yet Saturday.” We had a very nice lunch with him and good conversation as usual. We asked permission to videotape our visit with him. He said okay and joked around with the cameramen and commented often on his age. He said, “I am 97 years old” a few times, but he finally said, “Do you know I am 93 years old?” He teased me for my imperfect English and then he pretended to baptize me by putting his hand on my head when the nurse told us that many people told him that he baptized them while he was on his routine walk. We told him that he had a happy life because he helped so many people to be happy, including all of us. We expected to visit him again before winter, by the end of October, but it was too late. The memory of our good time is in our hearts forever. Dean Sayre was such a kind person and would surely have been loved by anyone who had the opportunity to know him.
Our past eight years visiting Martha’s Vineyard were not for pleasure or sightseeing. We went to the Island to pay our respect to Dean Sayre and his family whom we love and respect, to wish them good health and good lives as well as to receive blessing from him for our good lives. Our eight-year relationship with him makes it very difficult to think about the West Chop and the Main Street trail. We used to walk from his house to his beach houses and to the West Chop Club. He showed us his woodworking shop and tools. He told us many stories about his work at Washington National Cathedral, including the U.S. presidential inaugurations and woodworking for the cathedral. While his wife was still alive, we visited them a few times a year from spring to fall. They waited for us at the dock. Harriet cooked lunch for us. We had nice lunches together at the beach house and at the main house. She took us to see the berry bushes on the beach and gave us her delicious homemade wild berry jam to take home. After Harriet died, we still visited him every year. He was very happy and enjoyed every visit. He always shared with us his good memory about the relationship of Prince Mahidol and his father. He showed us a few items that his father received from the prince and the kings. We felt good about making him happy and we were also happy at every visit. Our next trips to Martha’s Vineyard will never be the same!
What brought us to know the Sayre family?
I was researching His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s family history and found that His Majesty’s family spent time on the Island in the summer of 1926 and 1927. The Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society helped to locate the vacation homes and the owners from the Gazette archives in 1926 and 1927. The vacation home in the summer of 1926 was his father’s home on 703 Main Street, Vineyard Haven. The King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation has included this home in the Trail of Thai Royal in Massachusetts project and we hope to dedicate this home next year.
In Thailand, every student in school learns about Dr. Francis Bowes Sayre and his exemplary work for Thailand. I remember having difficulty saying his American name. I feel honored and privileged to have had an opportunity to know his son, grandchildren and their families in person. The people of Thailand respect and are so proud of Dean Sayre’s father.
The Sayre family has a long relationship with Thailand, with both Thai government affairs and the royal family.
On the government side, Dr. Sayre’s father, Dr. Francis Bowes Sayre, served as an adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prince Traidos and King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) in Bangkok from 1923 to 1924 according to his Glad Adventure book. In recognition of his exemplary work for Thailand, and for his being a “true friend” of Thailand, His Majesty conferred on Dr. Sayre a distinctive name and title of high nobility: Phraya Kalyan Maitri. He was the only American to receive that Thai title. The most important work was Breaking Siam’s nineteenth century shackles of the unjust and unequal treaties that 10 European countries imposed upon Thailand (Siam), such as exemption from the jurisdiction of Siamese courts and the requirement under the treaties that no tariff above three per cent be levied on imports. Dr. Sayre represented Siam in negotiations with European countries to eliminate extraterritoriality; Siam subsequently concluded several treaties with European countries along the line of the 1920 Siam-US Treaty and protocol.
He also served as an adviser to King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) in 1926 according to the King’s letter to Dr. Sayre on July 23, 1926 from Prince Damrong’s files and Glad Adventure. Dr. Sayre returned to Bangkok in the summer of 1926 at the request of King Prajadhipok for his advice on the problems of Siam.
During that time, the young Dean Sayre was eight years old. Dr. Sayre’s family lived in Thailand for a year with the three children. Dean Sayre had a good memory of living in Thailand during that time. When members of the King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation visited him and his family in West Chop, he told stories about his home in Thailand and his father’s book, sharing happy memories of Siam. He remembered seeing many snakes in Thailand. His fondest memory was of King Vajiravudh sending the King’s white elephant for him, his brother, and sister to ride. While his father was dining in the palace with the King, the King asked if the children had ever ridden an elephant. His father replied no, and so the next morning the King’s white elephant, resplendent in royal trappings, majestically appeared in front of his home. He never forgot the ride that morning upon the King’s elephant.
On the royal family relationship, during his father’s mission in Thailand, his father became a good friend of Prince Mahidol of Siam, who later became the father of two kings, King Anandha (Rama VIII) and King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX).
From 1926 to 1928, Prince Mahidol, with his wife and their children: Princess Galyani Vadhana, Prince Anandh, who became King Rama VIII, stayed in Massachusetts for his studies. The king’s family spent much time with the Sayre family in their Cambridge and West Chop homes. In the summer of 1926, Prince Mahidol’s family stayed with the Sayres at their West Chop home. Dean Sayre was 11 years old, King Anandh was one year old and Princess Galyani Vadhana was three years old. In the summer of 1927, the family came back to the West Chop again. Although they stayed one or two houses away from the Sayre home, they looked after each other closely. The family ties remained close until the present King Bhumibol Adulyadej was born. In Dr. Sayre’s book, Glad Adventure, he noted the birth of King Bhumibol Adulyadej: “His second child, Prince Bhumibol, was born in a hospital in Cambridge close by our home so that they could be near Jessie and me.” Prince Mahidol’s family returned to Siam in July 1928 and they still wrote each other until Prince Mahidol died on Sept. 24, 1929.
Thailand owes a great deal to Dr. Sayre’s exemplary work.
Dean Sayre remembered Prince Mahidol and family well. At each of our visits with him, he told us of his fond memories of Prince Mahidol’s family, M.R. Thepparit Devakul and his son, Mom Tri (M.L. Tridhosyuth) who have become a part of his family. He always received us with a very kind and smiling face. Dean Sayre was, like his father, a true friend and will be remembered with appreciation, admiration, respect and affection.
Cholthanee Koerojna is president The King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation of Massachusetts in Burlington. The Very Rev. Francis B. Sayre Jr. died at home in Vineyard Haven on Oct. 3 at the age of 93. A memorial service was held at Grace Church in Vineyard Haven on Oct. 11. A funeral service will be held at the Washington Cathedral tomorrow at 1 p.m.