Weekly Local Biography

 Renee Vines


The chairwoman for the Foundation for the Education of Rural Children is a blue eyed blonde from Knoxville Tennessee. She is a lady who never lost sight of the fact that she had some type of personal ‘mission’ despite spending many years of putting it on the back burner while looking after and raising her three sons. She did not know where that need would take her, but having now reached Chiang Mai, she looks as if she has found her niche.

Renee was an only child, born to an attorney father and a school principal mother. She admits that being an only child does have some advantages, but there are disadvantages as well. Having a doting father can sometimes work both ways.

When she finished secondary education she already knew where she wanted her career to be - on the stage. Theatre! However, to get there it meant doing a BA, majoring in English literature, at the University of Texas so that she could go to the graduate school where they had a very good children’s theatre. From there it was to the University of Florida, which had a department of Theatre. "It was so much fun," said Renee, eyes sparkling when she thought back to those days.

Part of the "fun" included a young law student, and they were married, returning to Knoxville, where her (now ex) husband set up a private practice in law. Renee began teaching English, in a small college for black American children, and directed plays for the students as an after hours subject. These were the days of strict segregation in the southern regions of America. This in itself was quite an eye-opener for this young woman. "I was always an idealistic liberal and suddenly realised I had grown up and never knew any black people or Jewish people, and I only knew one Catholic!"

She taught there for four years, but then the job of her dreams came up - director of theatre programs for the University of Texas. She had the opportunity to write plays as well as produce them, letting her talents grow with the position. "It was fantastic! It was so hectic!" However, after two years she resigned. "I gave it up when I discovered I wasn’t Superwoman. I had three boys by then, and having custody of them, I stayed home for many years."

She ‘stayed home’ for over 12 years, but she also managed to have a little community radio talk show called "Talking About Books" as she was an avid reader, and did volunteer work with the Arts Council as well. She admits that she never did become a home body, "I’m still not domestic." And as far as cooking was concerned, "I wonder nutritionally how they (the boys) survived!"

She and the boys did survive through to the last one going to university, and Renee knew she was going to leave. Or rather that something inside said she ‘had’ to leave. "I never wanted to stay in Tennessee, but the option to leave wasn’t there till the kids were grown up." She thought about the American Peace Corps, but that seemed too structured, or restrictive, but Asia seemed to be calling. But where? With her sons telling her that this was just a dream and not reality, she suddenly was inspired and went into a travel agent and bought a one way ticket to Israel. There was method to this seeming madness. She had had an interest in world religions for many years, so the Holy Land looked like a fairly logical place to start her new life.

It certainly was an interesting time. She saw holy sites and experienced the unholy horror of a suicide bomber outside her hotel! Israel was not where she should be, but she was still unsure of ‘where’ in Asia she was headed. To find out, she headed into a book shop and picked up a book on Thailand. "The book said to give Bangkok a miss but go to Chiang Mai. So I bought a ticket and came here."

Having arrived, with her background and experience, it was only natural that she would go back into teaching, which she did for four years. "I really enjoyed teaching the Thai kids. They are very hard workers."

She also began doing some volunteer work with children, and it became obvious that the charity group needed a vehicle to ferry children and staff around. Nobody had a spare one they could have, so she became involved in fundraising. The event was a success, and they purchased a vehicle. By now there was no stopping. She became involved with forming the foundation for these underprivileged children, and the next event raised money to build a small school, and then a pre-school in a Karen village.

Renee has retained her interest in world religions, being fairly ecumenical these days, "The world is more than white America." She is also quite the philosopher when asked about where the world is headed. "Our hope as human beings is that the few people who grow towards the positive side (of life), trying to meet an ideal, will be able to spread that out a little bit."

She is not a fatalist, even though when asked about her personal future said, "Whatever is going to happen, is going to happen," but adding, "We do have choices and can do things towards this in our own little way."

Renee says, "A lot has happened since I left Tennessee. I have wanted a ‘big commitment’ for a long time. With so much happening here, why would I want to go anywhere else?"

Indeed, why are we all here? Thailand has supplied something that we were lacking in our own societies. That ‘something’ can be very different for different people, but for Renee Vines that ‘something’ appears to be inexplicably tied in with Thai rural children. That plane ticket to Chiang Mai has been of benefit for everyone!