Lars Olsson has passed away

Lars Olsson has passed away. A Swedish resident in Thailand since 1977, Lars died quietly in his home in Soi Watcharapol off Ramintra Road north of Bangkok on Sunday 15 June 2003. These words of memory are not late; it is Lars who died too early. Aged only 57, he had deserved a long sunset with a cold beer in his hand and a grandchild on his knee.
     The focal point of Lars Olsson’s attention through all his many years in Thailand was his wife Viyada and their four children, Jon 29, Joke 28, Jan 25 and Teddy 22. Jan, his only daughter, was the reason I got to know Lars Olsson in the first place. She had just finished ISB and Lars had arranged for her to study in New Zealand. Before she was to move there, Lars wanted her to have a working experience, so he called me to ask if she could work in Scand-Media for four months.
     What struck me during those months was how Jan always spoke about “my Dad” with such love and admiration. “My Dad is coming to pick me up today,” she would announce with happy excitement only minutes after she had arrived in the morning. And when he came, he would always come in, send Jan a warm smile, then look sternly at me and ask if she had been doing a good job today – and if she was not quite done, Lars would never say no to a cold beer while waiting. Sometimes, he would even remove his cap. Then we would compare notes of how we interpreted the latest political developments and he would generously share with me his vast hands-on knowledge of doing business in Thailand.
     And I mean hands-on. He is for instance the only Scandinavian businessman I know who has been shot because he asked his crook of a Thai boss to pay him his long overdue commission.

     But I am jumping now. Lars Olsson was not always a businessman. Born 14 January 1945 in Dalaplan in Malmo, Lars worked in his young days the crates in the harbour to pay for his studies at the University of Lund. In the evenings, he would work as a jazz singer, following in his fathers footsteps. He was a customs officer but in the evenings, he would play the piano to accompany silent movies in the local theatre.
     As a post-graduate he was about to gun for a doctorate when he was accepted for a dream job he had applied for as a UN expert in Zambia. From there on he was later moved to the ILO office in Ethiopia for a few months before being moved again, this time to Sudan.
     It was while working in Sudan, that Lars’ first wife Annika caught a tropical blood disease and tragically died. The emotional distress remained with Lars from posting to posting until in 1977 he was eventually posted to Thailand. In Bangkok, Lars met his second wife Viyada. She worked at the headquarters of the Democrat Party, had divorced her husband and lived alone with her three children. Together they decided to start building a new life.
     Lars Olsson quit the UN-system and set up his own company Swethai active within construction and marketing of a range of industrial products. Characteristically for Lars, he emerged himself completely in the local Thai society, doing business with other Thai businessmen the Thai way. Lars never felt he needed to be part of the closely knit social fabric of other Swedes residing temporarily in Thailand.
      Among the things I admire about Lars Olsson is the way he took complete responsibility for his new family. He insisted that all four children – Teddy was born in 1981 one year after the marriage – should get the best educational opportunities available. All went to school at ISB – the International School of Bangkok – and the three older ones all went to universities overseas. Teddy stayed home and tried to learn his fathers’ business. One of Swethai’s specialties was the know-how to construct silk-smooth concrete floors using a Swedish vacuum casting technology.
     Business was good until the Thai construction industry in 1997 went belly-up. Always quick on his feet, Lars immediately dismantled his workforce and started working as a consultant for other companies instead. It was the owner of one of these companies, ACT Co., Ltd., who pulled out a gun and shot at him. Lars survived by jumping out the door and after a few days in hospital he was sent home and came to see me.
      “Shit happens,” he said coy. But he was shaken by the incident and for a while he used our office to send and receive his business faxes and letters.
     Lars Olsson was aware, that fear was a major driving force for him. Not fear of anybody, but fear of not being good enough. Fear of not being there, if anyone in his family should need him to be there.
      “I need this responsibility pressure to keep on. Without this, I’m not sure how the hell things would have turned out.”
     The night before Lars died they had a family party at home. It was Saturday night and it was Teddy’s 22 year birthday. Lars was finally fully relieved of the duties he had taken upon him to bring up the children. He said he felt tired and went up early to go to bed. 
     Sunday morning he had started working as usual. Turned on the computer and started reading his emails. Some time during the morning, he went to the bathroom. Here his wife later in the day found him with closed easy and a peaceful look on his face.
     On Monday, the Swedish priest Ulf Claesson came out to pray for Lars with the family and on Wednesday he was cremated at Wat Kaew Jaem after a funeral service in Christ Church. Here his son Joke held a speech to his Dad, summing up some of his great qualities.
     “Today we are here to pay respect to a man whose heart is as big as the world he traveled, whose mind is as strong as the concrete he mixed, whose principles are as pure as the jazz music he loves, and a man whose life was legendary.”
     When I visited Lars’ family the following Monday, his ashes were kept in an urn on a table in one end of the living room awaiting reply from Lars’ 90 year-old mother back in Sweden if she wanted him to be buried back home. Next to the urn was a white cloth tied around the larger remains of Lars. Stroking lovingly the bundle, Viyada says they decided to cremate Lars together with his favourite cap.
     Behind the urn were a collection of photos of Lars put together. Lars in his heydays in front of his work team. Lars having a good time with his family. You can almost hear his favourite Duke Ellington jazz music playing in the background.
     Lars’ secret life was limited to visiting me about once a month to ask if he could borrow one thousand baht. Usually he would politely send me an email a day in advance warning me of his intent. Then on Saturday or Sunday he would go to The Stable for his favourite treat, a piece of white bread with a leaf of lettuce topped with small, delicate Greenland shrimps, mayonnaise and a little dill. This he would complete with a beer and a glass of ice cold snaps, and when about to take the snaps he would give me a call asking me if I could hear how good it tastes!
     Two to three weeks later he would stop by to pay back the loan and I would hear news about Viyada, whose manuscript for a book is about to be published, about Joke’s latest adventures as a DJ in one of Bangkok’s hot nightspots in Sukhumvit, Jan’s great new job and his and Teddy’s latest business accomplishments.      Then he would put on his cap and bid me farewell. It’s still hard to believe he has bid me his last farewell.

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