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Dec 01, 2017
by Louise Hallman & Tomás De La Rosa
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Salzburg Global Seminar mourns the loss of distinguished friend and Fellow Surin Pitsuwan

Surin Pitsuwan, multi-time Fellow, died of a heart attack on Thursday, November 30, at the age of 68 Pitsuwan, a multi-time Salzburg Global Fellow, was known for his commitment to democracy and regional identity

Surin Pitsuwan, multi-time Salzburg Global Fellow, has passed away in Bangkok following a heart attack at the age of 68 – just three weeks after he co-chaired a new program at Schloss Leopoldskron. A champion of Asia’s role in the global community, Pitsuwan was committed to sharing the lessons – and challenges – of Asia with the rest of the world. He leaves behind an invaluable legacy at international and regional level, and deeply impressed everyone who met him at Salzburg Global Seminar.

Born at Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand, in 1949, Pitsuwan dedicated his life to stability and sustainability in the Asian region. Graduating from Claremont College in California in political science in 1972, and earning a Master’s degree and Ph.D. from Harvard University, he attributed his success to the help others gave him and dedicated himself to work for those who were less fortunate than him.

Known for his commitment to democracy and regional identity, Pitsuwan entered politics in 1986 after being elected as a MP for his hometown, a seat he successfully defended for several terms. He went on to serve as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand from 1997 to 2001. Between 2008 and 2012, he served as Secretary General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a period that saw a significant improvement in the regional organization’s involvement in global affairs.

A participant in multiple Salzburg Global programs, Pitsuwan first became involved in 2013 at our special session on People, Peace and Planet in 2030: Shaping Inclusive and Sustainable Growth, held in Kyoto, Japan. He remained in close and regular contact with Salzburg Global as a speaker at four other sessions.

During his participation in the 2016 session on Leadership for Regional Cooperation in Asia for the 21st Century, Pitsuwan reflected on his time as ASEAN Secretary-General, saying, “Asian leadership needs to be transformative, trans-generational and transnational – it’s collective,” as he envisioned “a stronger, more effective, more confident and more unified East Asia.”

Most recently, his mission for a green and sustainable Asia became a driving force of Salzburg Global’s new multi-year series The Asia We Want: Building Community Through Regional Cooperation, which he helped launch in November 2017. Pitsuwan attributed sharing his knowledge and helping break down barriers as the inspiration behind his work, saying, “You don’t live for yourself and by yourself alone; the worth and the meaning of your existence depends on your human network... You can be a good man or woman only in the context of a society.”

A beneficiary of many scholarships and generous opportunities himself, particularly during his education and early career, Pitsuwan said he was always driven by a need not to pay back his benefactors, but to help others, especially young people, benefit similarily: “If my experiences are needed, if my knowledge is of any help to anybody, I would be willing to travel far and often in order to share the experiences, the inspiration, and the knowledge that have been accumulated through the years... It is the passion to share with others that has driven me... To extend the circle of goodwill,” he added.

Clare Shine, Salzburg Global Vice President and Chief Program Office said of Pitsuwan, “For such a prominent leader, Surin was a rare mix of intellect, enthusiasm and generosity, especially with rising younger talents. He often quoted W.B.Yeats’ famous line from The Second Coming: 'The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity,' urging people to join forces for a better world. Surin was a wonderful friend to me personally and to Salzburg Global Seminar. We will dearly miss his unique blend of conviction and passionate intensity.”  

He leaves his wife Alisa, three sons, and many friends across the world.