Pensak Chagsuchinda Howitz passed away in the morning of the 14th December 2022. Officially, she was born in September 1939, but she believed herself that her father changed her official age so she could start school earlier.
Pensak lived a very extraordinary life. She grew up in Sakon Nakhon in the North East of Thailand close to the border to Laos. Her father was a judge and her mother was of noble descent. As a child, she was allowed to roam with the local villagers and this gave her a special connection to the poor, often landless farmers in this impoverished region of Thailand.
As a teenager, she was sent to Bangkok to receive a proper education and graduated in archaeology. Then she applied for a position in Stockholm, Sweden to promote Thai tourism in Scandinavia which at the time was a very new thing. After this posting, she was very keen on getting back to Scandinavian and eventually landed a scholarship to study at the University of Copenhagen.
Pensak’s years in Copenhagen was a busy period for the young academic, who among many other initiatives established a Thai alumni in Denmark and eventually co-founded the Institute for Asian Studies at the University of Copenhagen.
Then in 1974, she met her soulmate in the Danish diplomat Frantz Bonaventura Howitz who wanted to learn Thai as he was going to be posted as Ambassador of Denmark to Thailand and the fascination was mutual. When in 1975 Frantz Howitz relocated to Bangkok, it was with Pensak as Mrs. Howitz.
Pensak was a great asset to Frantz as she could explain to him better than any local embassy staff, what was really going on in Thailand at a time, where the war in Vietnam had just ended and the Vietnamese had ousted the Khmer Rouge and Laos had become a Russian style communist state. Thailand itself was threatened by bands of communist guerrillas operating in the border provinces in the North East of Thailand, where Pensak had grown up.
Because she knew the true character of the poor population in the countryside, she knew the communist insurgents were not based on much of an ideology, but mostly just wanted a better life for their families, school for their children, justice for the ordinary people in the legal system. Probably exhausted by her relentless energy, Frantz gave her a small seed money fund, that she could operate with, which she named Raindrop Foundation. Many raindrops would make fields green and fish thrive in the lakes and rivers.
Then Frantz Howitz was transferred to Saudi Arabia, which put the Raindrop fFoundation on hold and opened a new chapter as a diplomat’s wife for Pensak. The absolute highlight of the posting was the State Visit by Queen Margrethe II in March 1984. Pensak shared Queen Margrethe’s interest in archeology and helped open doors into the female world of Saudi Arabia, that her husband would never have been able to.
The next posting was to Tokyo, which turned out to be tragically the last posting as Frantz Howitz died of a heart attack on the tennis court. Pensak’s world crumbled and she turned to her Buddhist background, retreating at a temple as a nun. Eventually, the Royal Thai court encouraged her to leave the temple and resume her NGO work in the North East of the Kingdom.
Raindrop Foundation flourished under her direct care and new attention. She joined hands with Danida and established several useful projects all directed at improving the lives of the poor in the countryside, where she grew up. As a Thai citizen and with her mixed background of nobility and diplomacy, she knew her way around all obstacles.
At the height of the Raindrop Foundation’s activities in Thailand – which had already expanded to other parts of Thailand – she decided to enter politics and in 2000 she was declared the winner of the senatorial seat for Sakon Nakhon in the Thai Senate. This was before the election to Prime Minister of Thaksin Shinawatra, which became the start of a decade of turbulence in Thailand’s political landscape which until then had been relatively stable despite the odd military coup now and then.
Senator Pensak Chagsuchinda – she now used her original maiden name – was a member of the Foreign Committee of the Senate and involved in several other committees and thrived in the games of politics. Eventually, the military coup in 2014, which was led by current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, ended her career as a Senator. But during her busy years in politics, her Raindrop Foundation had suffered from lack of attention. One by one of the former flagship activities were closed down, the last one being the handicap project aimed at giving better life quality to handicapped children living invisibly in the villages around the headquarters of the foundation in Sakon Nakhon.
Pensak Howitz suffered from a chronic blood disease not uncommon in Thailand characterized by a low count of red blood cells which would make her easily get tired. This started to bother her more and more as she approached eighty years of age but an extensive medical program halted the progress and she reach three years ago a condition, where she was both mentally and physically stable.
One of the dearest projects, that she hoped she would be remembered for, was bringing an authentic Thai house to Denmark, which was re-erected just outside the Moesgaard Manor near Aarhus in Denmark. She also was in charge and paid for the renovation in 2017. The house has – like herself – become a symbol of the close friendship between the people of Thailand and the people of Denmark.
- Funeral rites will take place at Wat Nuan Chan, Sala 6, starting from Thursday 15 December 2022.
Cremation will take place at same place on Sunday 18 December at 13.00.
- In Denmark, friends and family of Pensak Howitz have arranged for a memorial get-together on Sunday 18th December 2022 at 13.00 -15.00 in her house in Copenhagen, Signesvej 1, 2900 Hellerup
Pensak Chagsuchinda’s biography was in 2018 published in Danish by author Kristoffer Flakstad: https://scandasia.com/new-book-about-pensak-chagsuchinda-howitz/
In 2020, an English language version of the book was published by Gregers Moller and edited by Andrew J. West:
Shortly after, the book appeared in a Thai version: