By Expat Life in Thailand
Past International President The International Association of Lions Clubs
I was lucky enough to be invited to join between 2 – 3,000 people at the Lions Club of Thailand Annual Convention in Nakhon Sawan this year in early March.
I met some delightful, inspiring, selfless people and my host introduced me to the man above, who is 85 years young. He speaks perfect English, is a good looking Thai man, despite his experience of life, and I requested the opportunity of meeting him to find out more about him.
Kajit “KJ” Habanananda of Bangkok, Thailand, served as president of The International Association of Lions Clubs following his election at the association’s 81st International Convention, held in Birmingham, England, June 29th – July 3rd, 1998.
Past President Habanananda is still active in the local activities in his Multiple District 310 (Thailand) after joining the Lions 57 years ago. He is currently a life member of the Lions Club of Bangkok (Cosmopolitan).
Having worked through most of the positions at club and district levels, he became 100% District Governor in 1975 – 76. He was the first Thai Lion to be elected to the International Board of Directors and served on the board from 1982 – 84.
We met at the Hua Hin Palm Beach Condominium where he is Chairman of the Residents Board. I was asked to join him one Saturday after lunch whilst he was entertaining friends in the restaurant on the beach at the complex.
He is fond of travelling, flying, golfing and reading. In his family, his father, brother and son are all Lions. He still is actively involved in businesses ranging from aerospace, telecommunications, land and property development and international consulting.
Khun Kajit and his wife, Panida, have three children and 7 grandchildren. He was born in BKK 85 years ago where his father worked for the railroad. His father obtained a Kings scholarship, and he went to Manchester in England and gained a first class honours degree.
So he came back as an engineer working on the railroads but in his spare time he took and passed a law degree. Being an engineer is ok, a detail man but an engineer with a law degree… it was unheard of.
He told me, ‘My mother was from the South and she was one of the first businesswomen in Thailand. She started up the movie (film) business in Thailand. She distributed all the movies up and down Thailand. She started working as an agent for all the Hollywood movie company’s – MGM, Paramount, Republic, RKO.
My siblings and I attended a local school in BKK but at the age of 15 my parents decided that we needed to go to England to get a proper education. So my two brothers and I all left Bangkok on the same day bound for London, England in 1952.
I remember standing on the pavement watching Queen Elizabeth 11’s Coronation being so cold on The Mall. I was enrolled in a public school in Brentwood School, Essex.
We were the first Thais in the school, but as the language was difficult for us, they sent us to another private school to learn English – but that still didn’t help. Going to a public school in another country, you have to work so hard and of course we had to endure a lot of ribbing from the English kids because we were different!
We were a rare species in the UK in the 1950s, so soon after the war, so they all called us Chop Chop or much worse… But we put up with it – we had too.
I worked hard to be accepted and managed to get into all the sports – squash, rugby, tennis, I played at Wimbledon in the All England Schools Competition. My brother and I were the Essex County Champions at squash. I was in the top twelve in the UK schools in Fencing. Working hard in all the sports allowed my brother and I to get accepted.
We graduated from high school, did our O and A levels and applied to go to university. Of course in those days everybody wanted to go to Oxford or Cambridge, not London. But they were on a quota basis.
They only allowed so many foreigners to get in. Obviously if your mother country was part of the Commonwealth your chances were enhanced, but Thailand is of course independent. There were therefore only 2 a year admitted, I was informed I had to wait for 3 years.
My father took charge and said no way, he sent us to the USA where we went to a small college – Ball State in the State of Indiana.
It is one of the top three teachers colleges in the US. Now they have 20,000 students and have become a full fledged university.
They had 4 Thai students, 3 of those were on a national scholarship. I stayed there and attained my Bachelors and my Masters Degree in Business Administration specialising in Management, then I decided to come home.
In 1960 the word Management was brand new – Thailand had never heard of it!
So I joined the Army in my early 20s. I was a Captain and worked for the government and the army. I stayed for a few years and volunteered to go to Vietnam, one of the first draft, but on the eve of the departure I went to Pattaya to enjoy the weekend and then spent the next 3 months in hospital with hepatitis B. I left the Forces when I was discharged from hospital.
I joined the Thai Oil Refinery, the first large refinery in Thailand in the Public Relations Department. It was a brand new venture managed by Shell and as I spoke English I was welcomed. I stayed for 7 years then moved back to Bangkok. After much thought I decided to become a self employed. As a wage earner at the end of your career they put you out to pasture so I decided to start my own venture and became a business consultant.
An international consultant in many fields, oil, laying pipelines in Thailand, I did some business with Israeli companies, setting up the electrified perimeter fence. This was very new in Thailand and we installed electrified fences all around the King’s Palaces.
Then I got into the aeronautical business and joined Lockheed. They were selling the Hercules C130 transporters. I helped to put those aircraft into the Thai Air Force – all 12 of them. One thing led to another and I ended up working as a consultant for Lockheed for 28 years. The longest consultant that the company ever had. I was involved in many fields – construction, land and house development’.
He mentioned that the land where we now sat was owned by a friend and he wanted to build a condominium. ‘It was something new to Hua Hin where there was hardly anything here, only the palace and the airport. So I helped him’.
I noted that the condominium land was on the beachfront and each of the two towers was 15 storeys high. Something that would not be allowed now. KJ owns a three storey 5 bedroom penthouse at the top of the rear tower. The owners of all the units here use these as second or third homes, mostly Thai with a few expats married to Thais. It is set out beautifully in spacious grounds not something that you would find today.
‘I joined The Lions Club, the first local chapter in Bangkok was under the Royal Patronage 65 years ago, I have been a member for 57 years. I went through all the chairs, international posts of this non profit, NGO and I eventually became the World President in 1998. The Lions are in 210 countries and 1.4 million members.
I asked why the Rotary Club seemed to get more attention and he said ‘that’s because they have better PR than the Lions. They come into the community early and choose white collars, CEOs first. Lions came after and select people on a different basis’.
He sits on the Bangkok Patana Board of Directors, and has done for 17 years, which was started by an English family. All my 7 grandchildren have attended Bangkok Patana. Patana is the best known English National Curriculum international school in Thailand.
He told me of a number of the projects that the Lions Clubs of Thailand had worked on and helped make people’s lives better.
This article was republished with permission from Expat Life in Thailand