One of the more colourful members of the
Chiang Mai society is Dr. Howard C. Graves Jr., a man who was to
be a surgeon in operating theatres, but instead ended up
treading the boards in repertory theatres! In his cream Lanna
style top, phasin over the shoulder, jade bangles and rings, and
flowing white hair, he is an imposing figure.
Howard was born in New York City, moving to
the affluent Hyde Park area as his father’s electrical
business flourished. He was also a very good student, but his
direction was towards art, drama and theatre, rather than sport.
He also knew his career direction. “I knew what I wanted to do
most of my young life. I wanted to be a surgeon.”
To that end he went to college, preparing for
the pre-med course, but there he suffered his first setback.
“I made the fatal mistake of becoming more interested in
extra-curricular activities, which resulted in grade points too
low to enter medical school.” He explained further, “I was
just having a very good time. There was a freedom there. I
perhaps didn’t have the internal controls I should have
With his surgical dream in tatters and Uncle
Sam now insisting he line up for the draft, he enlisted in the
army. The infantry and artillery were far from pre-med school,
but the army sent him to officer’s school where he was
commissioned in the Medical Service Corps to go to Korea. He was
already packed and supervising supplies onto the troop ships
when the war ended, eight days before his departure. With no
war, Uncle Sam didn’t need him and he was discharged.
By this stage he had married a teacher and a
friend who was running a private school suggested they join him.
It was the best offer and he took it. He stayed there for three
years and found that he began to enjoy teaching, so undertook
formal training to complete a Masters degree in secondary
Now a qualified teacher he moved back to New
York where he worked for a year, enjoying the experience
thoroughly, before deciding that he should go for a doctorate in
education. This took two and a half years, during which time his
wife supported him in this endeavour by continuing working
Now Dr. Howard he became an assistant
principal and was assigned to three different high schools in
the region. However, this side of teaching had its drawbacks.
“The 60’s were a horrible period of time in schools, with
discipline problems that were not there in the 50’s.” Since
he was the assistant principal, the role he was thrust into was
that of being the disciplinarian. For a man who was interested
in the ‘finer’ things in life - art, theatre, drama, this
was not a pleasant experience. “In my teenage years, respect
and responsibility just came naturally. Sadly that had all gone
in the 60’s in the secondary high schools.”
His answer to that was to ask for a transfer
within the education department, going to an elementary school,
even though he was really overqualified for the junior year
schools. “I did not want to go back to secondary high schools.
They were horrible people!”
He took over as principal of a small school
and thoroughly enjoyed teaching again in a period where
‘innovation’ was the buzzword. Dr. Howard could let his
artistic side come forward to allow the children to explore the
world through theatre and art as well as the usual three R’s.
However, this also was to herald a black
period in his life. His wife developed cancer which spread
throughout her system. Life became work combined with endless
trips to hospitals while looking after their young son at the
same time. His wife eventually died and life was forever changed
for Dr. Howard.
Again he applied to the education department
for a posting with reduced responsibility, now that he was a
sole parent, and he was rewarded with being put in charge of
presenting programmes for very highly gifted children. These
were not the “horrible” teenagers, and gave him a chance to
create something worthwhile for young lives while rebuilding his
The next step in the rebuilding came in the
form of an invitation to teach in Singapore, from an
administrator who had worked previously for Dr. Howard in the
US. The concept excited him, a complete break away, even though
he admitted, “I had to look Singapore up in an atlas as I
didn’t know exactly where it was!”
Singapore was enjoyable, and it offered him a
chance to really get into the business of the theatre as well,
from Shakespeare to musicals and even pantomime, where he was
thrilled to be offered the part of the “Dame” (a part always
played by a man in traditional pantomime). “It was a trip into
the ridiculous!” he said, waving his arms expressively.
The Thailand connection also happened at this
time, as Dr. Howard would come to Pattaya to sit on the beach
and learn his lines, and then return to Singapore for the
rehearsals, where he would have fun parading through the streets
in such unlikely dress as a Dracula costume. That one was just a
little over the top for Singapore and he was politely escorted
out of a hotel as he was scaring the guests!
However, teaching was not over either. He was
invited to Indonesia, but this was not a happy tenure and he was
pleased to leave in 1987 and retired, coming back originally to
Pattaya, but leaving in 1990. “I had seen more cabaret shows
in Pattaya than anyone else,” and came to Chiang Mai where he
is now settled, despite six changes of address!
He is here for good, “I expect to be cremated in Chiang
Mai,” he said with a beaming grin and another flourish of the
hands. It was a fun interview for us both.