Weekly Local Biography

  Andrew McRady

I will never forget the first time I heard Andrew McRady play the bagpipes. A newcomer to Thailand and indeed to Asia, I sat in the garden of a housing compound on Nimmanahae-
minda Road and pondered the meaning of cultural dissonance. The hauntingly beautiful bag piped strains of “Amazing Grace” floated through the cool night air along with the enchanting smells of tom yom goong from the little restaurant on the street - Scottish bagpipes played by an American in a garden in Thailand.

Andrew McRady grew up in states in the southern part of the United States. His father was in computers at a time when computers were as big as a room. His mother was a nursing instructor. There was no lack of job opportunities, and the family lived in several prime locations before settling in tiny, historic Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Bell Buckle is considered a Mecca for artisans, craftsmen and musicians. With a population 463, it is home to the Webb School, a prestigious college preparatory school and Andrew’s alma mater. Surrounded by such creativity, is it any wonder that he took up playing the bagpipes rather than the piano when he was a teenager? Inspired by a bagpipe band at the Scottish Games nearby, Andrew was delighted when a member of that band moved to Bell Buckle and both taught and organized a bagpipe band.

Andrew graduated and made an amazing move for a young man from a small town, but it foreshadowed his sense of adventure. He went to Scotland for a year of study. He had never traveled internationally, and certainly had never traveled alone. Nobody took him in tow at Heathrow International Airport and showed him how to catch the train to Aberdeen, Scotland. It was a year of tremendous maturing as he negotiated everything alone. Then he came home and worked in construction jobs, learning skills that would serve him well in his future life in a developing country.

He enrolled in Berea College in Kentucky where he met Julie, who would become his wife. Berea was the first interracial and intergender college in the south of the USA. Called the “poor student’s Harvard”, students pay no tuition but literally work to pay for their educations. Andrew says that the college represents both an excellent education and a successful social experiment.

Julie graduated from Berea with a degree in education; Andrew followed with a degree in political science. Julie came to Thailand to teach. She had grown up here, and her family was here. Andrew pondered life and unemployment. Then he got on a plane and followed Julie, got off of the plane and got married. He was thrilled to find a job teaching English at Prince Royal’s College, but acknowledges that there was no preparation for teaching in Thailand at that time. He loved it. The people at PRC were supportive, and helped him through the rough parts of culture shock. It wasn’t the traffic or even the language that was problematic. He says he made mistakes that offended people, and didn’t know what he had done wrong or how to make it right. That was where Julie and his new colleagues helped out. He spent a bit of time learning and putting things right. And still he played the bagpipes.

Like many people, he had only intended to be here a year or so. But he quickly found that he loved Chiang Mai. He loved the challenges. He and Julie thrived. He moved to Payap University and taught there for four years. He had a great experience, found supportive colleagues again and enjoyed the students. Then he and Julie decided they wanted a family, and he changed jobs again so that he could support his young family while Julie took care of their new baby girl. Nakorn Payap International School needed a social science teacher and he found a use for that degree in political science. He soon became Assistant Principal as well, and enjoys that position today. The student body is varied – multicultu-ral, international students study and play together. Andrew still teaches, and he is careful to include information about ethnocentricity in his classes. He hopes to help his students avoid that pitfall. Chiang Mai has become a multicultural city since he moved here twelve years ago, and he encourages his students to learn from each other.

At NIS Andrew was working hard but gaining a little weight. Jogging bored him, and he wanted to do something that included his family. A baby boy was now part of it. One day he saw a saamlor (a rickshaw for readers who don’t live here), and casually said, “I need one of those”. The idea took hold and soon he was taking the family for rides in his saamlor and taking children for rides at parties. He got great reactions from his neighbors, and the kids loved it. Saamlors are heavy vehicles; the seats are made of teak. They don’t start easily, and they don’t stop quickly. It’s a lot of work to ride one so the weight did indeed come off.

Andrew and I sipped coffee and I thought about all of his accomplishments – family man, educator, school administrator, saamlor driver, bag piper. How does he describe himself? “Busy” was his laughing response, with no hesitation in his voice at all. “The kids are a handful, fun and busy themselves.” But what a wonderful kind of life the children are having. Their daughter is in kindergarten. Grandma is her teacher, and she has learned to call her “Mrs. Dobson” in the classroom and “Grandma” outside. But this is the best part. Grandma wrote the books they use in her kindergarten, and Grandpa illustrated them.

Andrew McRady’s life is full, an open book with ever-developing chapters. I wonder if he remembers the motto at the Webb School, and its focus on personal integrity. It obviously influenced him. Noli Res Subdole Facere, “do nothing on the sly”.