Updated: Nov. 17, 4:28 pm
Most everyone is familiar with the term “six degrees of separation,” the notion that any two people can be connected to one another (or Kevin Bacon) in no more than six steps. When the King of Thailand (King Bhumibal Adulyadej, Rama IX, who at the time of his death was the world’s longest-serving head of state) died on Oct. 13, Ken Ruscyk and Michael Dello Russo, both of Oak Bluffs, informed us that the king had a Vineyard connection.
Here’s how it works:
It all began with Dr. Francis Sayre, who was married to Jessie Wilson, the daughter of president Woodrow Wilson. Thomas Sayre, the grandson of Dr. Sayre, whose family has had Vineyard residences for generations, told us of the doctor’s illustrious career.
“Back in the ’20s, my grandfather taught law at Williams and Harvard Law School, and was plucked by the State Department to do special missions throughout his life. He was an expert at international contract law, and at one point I believe he was under-secretary of the Justice Department,” said Mr. Sayre. “At that time, Siam was one of the strongest allies the U.S. had in Southeast Asia, but they were languishing economically.” Dr. Sayre and his family were sent to Bangkok to advise King Rama VI.
“The reason they were languishing was that they had signed protectionist treaties with 13 European countries,” said Mr. Sayre. “It was back at the end of the colonial period, and the way the treaties worked was, We [the European countries] won’t invade you if you buy our goods, and you will sell us your teak for our price. They were essentially economically occupied by these incredibly one-sided treaties.”
Dr. Sayre left his family in Siam and spent a summer going to each of the European countries to renegotiate their treaties. One of the last countries he negotiated with was Italy, and he got Mussolini to adopt more favorable terms.
“The King of Siam was so grateful,” said Mr. Sayre, “he said, I’ll give you these three things:
One was the name Phraya Kalyan Maitri (a distinctive name and title of high nobility). The second was a bronze relief plaque in the shape of a buffalo head that was wired to the grill of their car, such that people’s heads would hit the ground out of respect for the king whenever they saw this plaque.”
Third, he entrusted Dr. Sayre with two of his young nephews and asked that they be taken to America to receive a proper Western education. Mr. Sayre explained that while this didn’t directly tie into Rama IX being on the Vineyard, it did speak to the great esteem with which the king held Dr. Sayre. One of the boys, Tau, grew up like a brother to Dr. Sayre’s son and Thomas Sayre’s father, Francis Sayre Jr.
The brother of King Rama VI was Prince Majhidol, and the prince and Dr. Sayre became
acquainted while the doctor was in Bangkok. The two continued their friendship when the prince came to Cambridge to study at Harvard. The prince and his wife,Srinagarindra, had three children. The first son, who would go on to become King Rama VIII, was shot in the royal palace, and his younger brother, Bhumibal Adulyadej, succeeded him as King Rama IX. Bhumibal was born in Cambridge, and according to Mr. Ruscyk, “he was the only sovereign in the world not born in the country of his rule.”
In 1926 Dr. Sayre invited the prince and his family to visit him for the summer at his home on West Chop. While the future King Rama IX wasn’t to be born until later on that year, he technically did stay at Dr. Sayre’s house — albeit in utero. The prince and his family returned the following summer, and Dr. Sayre arranged for them all to stay in a house three doors away. “I guarantee,” said Mr. Sayre, “King Rama’s feet were on the floor of our house.”
A plaque was placed on the house at 703 Main Street, West Chop, owned by Dr. Sayre, by the King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation in June 2009 as part of the trail of Thai royalty in Massachusetts. “Another was placed at the home three doors down where the prince and his family stayed in 1927,” said Mr. Sayre, “but when the house was sold, the plaque went with the sellers.”
Mr. Dello Russo’s wife, Jeeranan, is of Thai origin, and when they heard about the death of King Rama IX, he did a little research on the Internet and was surprised to learn about the plaque on the house on West Chop. “My wife didn’t even know it,” said Mr. Della Russo, “so the next day we all went to check it out. We parked on Main Street, took a flag out of the car, marched up with the flag and stood there while two guys shingling stood and watched.”
“Trail of Thai royalty in Massachusetts 703 Main St., West Chop, Martha’s Vineyard
in the summer of 1926, Prince Mahidol of Siam (Thailand) stayed at this house with his wife and children: Princess Galyani Vadhana (aged 3 years) and Prince Anandha (aged 1), who was to become King Rama VIII. Prince Mahidol was studying medicine at Harvard Medical School, and the Princess Mother was studying nursing and household economics at Simmons College and local hospitals.
“Prince Mahidol was a son of Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and Queen Savang Vadhana, and was the father of the two kings Rama VIII and Rama IX. Prince Mahidol was the first Thai royal
to study in the U.S. This house was the vacation home of Dr. Francis Bowes Sayre, a professor at Harvard Law School who was advisor in foreign affairs to King Vajlravudh (Rama VI) in Bangkok (November 23 to September 1924) and in Europe (the ensuing year). His Majesty conferred on Dr. Sayre a distinctive name and title of high nobility: Phraya Kalyan Maitri.
“A gift from KTBF 2009”
If you have any interesting Vineyard connections you’d like us to explore or you’d like to share with us, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.