Many foreigners have chosen to make Thailand their home over the years and some continue to embrace the kingdom in such a way that their contributions to the country will never be forgotten. One of those people was British doctor Patrick (Paddy) Dickson, who sadly passed away last week of a heart attack at the age of 92.
“Paddy”, as everyone knew him, loved Thailand since he first set foot in the kingdom in 1958 and established himself as a popular figure, not only with the British community, but also with the many Thais he helped in his work at the British Dispensary. He quickly masters the Thai language and his pleasant and relaxed personality makes him an ideal family doctor.
He also never hesitated to give an impromptu piano performance.
Born in 1929, Paddy has had a remarkable life and there isn’t enough space to do him justice. In 1940, while in London, he narrowly survived a German bombardment during the Blitz when an adjacent office was hit directly and had to be dug up from under the stairs by rescue teams.
He then went to the University of Cambridge where he obtained his medical degree from Clare College. A gifted pianist, he performed at the university’s famous Footlights Dramatic Club. He then spent two years as a Flying Officer in the Royal Air Force. In 1950, he became a medical student at St Thomas Hospital.
Paddy met his wife Chalermsri “Poo” in Cambridge in 1954 and they married two years later. Paddy said the first time he saw her “she was so attractive she took my breath away”. They raised two adorable daughters, Fiona and Caroline.
Unlike many British expats, my introduction to Paddy was not through his medical expertise, but through his piano skills.
Shortly after arriving in Bangkok I contracted hepatitis and as I did not know any doctor a friend recommended Dr Einar Ammundsen who worked at the British Dispensary on New Road. The Danish doctor looked after me very well and thus became my regular doctor rather than Paddy.
A few years ago at a gathering of the British Club ‘golden oldies’, I was almost apologizing to Paddy about how I became a patient of Dr Ammundsen rather than himself. Paddy laughed and said “that means we had the same doctor.” It turned out that if he felt bad, Paddy would see Dr Ammundsen.
I first met Paddy playing piano in the mid-1970s at the Napoleon Lounge in Patpong which had Dixieland jazz sessions on Sunday afternoons. One of the conductors was Paddy’s best friend, Australian military attachÃ© Lachie Thomson, an accomplished clarinetist. Paddy was often given a place in solo where he played the blues soul piano with a passion that elicited warm applause. He also performed regularly at the annual Ploenchit Fair at the British Embassy.
One wonders if the contentment and inner peace that Paddy enjoyed at the piano could have played an important role in his becoming such an accessible doctor.
The last time I saw Paddy play was at a reception for long-time residents at a Bangkok hotel a few years ago. During a hiatus, Paddy discovered a piano and embarked on a few of his favorite blues tracks with the same passion as when I first saw him 40 years earlier.
At the cremation last Monday, as family and friends gathered in the sala to bid farewell to Paddy, it seemed fitting that a saxophonist would play the wonderful tunes of one of Paddy’s favorite songs, There will never be another you.
Paddy’s son-in-law Dominic Faulder spoke on behalf of everyone in his eulogy when he said “we should celebrate a long and exceptionally well lived life which has brought so much happiness and so many good times”. RIP Paddy.
The piano teacher
I have always been jealous of anyone who is accomplished at the piano because it has to be so therapeutic. It remains my favorite instrument, especially in a jazz context. I even had lessons when I was a kid but I gave them up after a year, a decision I still regret. I just didn’t have the patience or skills to master minuets and the like.
I sympathized with my piano teacher, however. Trying to teach myself couldn’t have been much fun. Just imagine having to go through all those wrong notes week after week. It must have been absolute torture.
Being a piano teacher can be a thankless task and they shared their experiences on the internet. A teacher found herself teaching in a house full of pets and had to put up with dogs and cats scrambling over the keyboard in the middle of class. There are various stories of kids who got so nervous that they peed in their pants during class.
There are probably piano teachers in Thailand too with some stories to tell.
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Bangkok Post Columnist
A longtime popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994, he won the Ayumongkol Literary Prize. For many years he was sports editor at the Bangkok Post.