How do you come to terms with the loss of your best friend, your mentor, your inspiration, the person who literally saved you by helping you become a better person with an aim and a new direction in life?
How do you recover from the loss of a man who has supported and encouraged you through a quarter of a century of the greatest times anyone could hope to have?
When I was informed by text by one of the Thai players that there was sad news, just one thought entered my head – please, please, don’t let it be him.
But it was. Our beloved Amnuay had died.
He passed away after suffering a heart attack on Sunday.
I can’t begin to tell you what Amnuay Ploysangngam meant not just to me but the tens of thousands of others in Thailand and around the world whose lives he touched in so many ways.
He was quite simply the greatest promoter of Scrabble the world has ever seen. He was an inspirational figure who through humility, kindness and sheer humanity inspired several generations of people to take up the game. He inspired youth from every corner of Thailand to share his passion for the game, to come together in a spirit of sportsmanship, to develop themselves not just in English but mathematics and tactics and strategic thinking. He inspired everyone to be better people
Simply put, and this is coming from a teacher of thirty years, he was the greatest educator I have ever known. A man who would never see himself as a teacher but one who was one in every sense of the word.
Never cross but always focused – always caring and supportive.
And with the help of so many friends and colleagues, people in big business and government he made Crossword Game and all its spin-offs the sensational success that they all enjoy today.
People gravitated to Amnuay. He inspired just with his personality. He didn’t beg for your help. You just gave it because of him.
I interviewed Amnuay towards the end of 2015 for my book. We spent three hours over lunch as he told me everything in his past and his hopes for the future.
He was the first person I had interviewed – I considered everyone after that of less significance when it came to a book about Scrabble. He told me in his usual humble way how everyone had helped him in his quest and how lucky he had been in his life to have so many great people around him.
I didn’t say it, but I thought it wasn’t luck – everyone gravitated to Amnuay because he was who he was. The person we loved.
Everyone whose lives he touched will have their own personal recollections of his kindness, bonhomie and consideration. Whether it was the six year old beginner apprehensive at their first event, or the pro player visiting from abroad, Amnuay was considerate and understanding of their feelings.
He was the benevolent uncle as he was referred to by so many in Thailand.
Indeed, while he had no children of his own the reality was that he had thousands. Tens of thousands. Children who went on to be better people whether they continued in the game or not. Children who went on to inspire others.
Children who even went on to become world champions and bring honor to the kingdom that he cherished and loved.
For me, I owe Amnuay everything. I was an angry 29 year old looking for a new direction. Something to fill my brain and give me purpose. Turning to Crossword game in Thailand gave me a life that I could only have dreamed of. And it was there, much to my surprise, because of Amnuay and the club of which he was the only president from day one.
Despite being born and raised in England I was never an outsider. He brought me into the Thai world like no other person before or since. There was never any quibble about representing the kingdom that I myself had grown to love even though I was not an official citizen.
When I first represented by new homeland in 1997 in Washinton, DC I had such pride. Amnuay came too, as the manager, even though he was not playing. I had taken a place a selfish person could have taken for himself. He was the antithesis of selfish.
His pride at my overseas win in 1998 was not really for me but for Thailand, for everybody here. He paid me the greatest compliment when organizing an award for services to the game that was presented to me by a princess.
To receive that honor was one of the greatest moments of my life and was because of Amnuay.
As the years past we formed a bond that flourished and developed. Whenever he called on me I would drop everything – of course, like thousands of other, I would help. How couldn’t I?
Under his most excellent guardianship Thailand has become the leading name in the promotion of Scrabble especially among the youth. He took the game into schools and universities with training roadshows. Tens of thousands came flocking to his tournaments every other weekend of the year.
He understood people’s needs especially those of children. He invented the Primary School Crossword Game that introduced crossword gaming to so many little ones. He developed A-Math the equations game that became a nationwide phenomenon. He introduced another invention, Kham Khom – Thai Scrabble – that helped to promote a language that some Thais were becoming to see as less important.
His way was to make everything open and friendly. Everyone could come and be a part of the fun. This was no clique. No closed shop. This was open – in shopping centers. Fun, noisy fun – a great thing to do on any weekend, creating friendships. Building lifelong bonds.
When you heard the crossword game song on the loudspeakers you knew you were in the right place!
Above all he gave the Thai youth an outlet to express themselves. A beneficial way of using their free time that wasn’t just more school but was developing them in ways that extra lessons or cramming school could never accomplish.
And consequently he inspired big business to want a piece of the action that he and his team had created from nothing in a country hardly held in high esteem for its English abilities or even its educational system. Every sponsor wanted to be associated with Crossword Game.
Not that he cared about money or fame – he was the educator just hell bent on improving things, driven to succeed and make everyone’s lives the better for it.
And it was also no surprise when he managed to secure the support of the greatest jewel – the patronage of the Thai Royal Family. The King’s Cup became the most iconic tournament in the world as anyone who has played in it can attest.
It grew from humble beginnings in 1986 to the international event that it is today and while many contributed to that there is no one who would say it could have happened without Amnuay.
There is enormous grief in Thailand that will be mirrored throughout the world by all those who came into contact with this great man. It is so sad that we shall never again get the chance for another game, with this so affable and talented player.
I am tearful when I recollect I last saw him four weeks ago at a Bangkok tournament and told him that over the coming weeks I would be playing in Malaysia and Perth. And of course, I said, I would be representing the good name of Thailand.
He put his arm around me and thanked me.
But it is I who should have thanked him – for I can’t adequately express how much I am in his debt.
Of course, I never thought to say goodbye. Because he was always there and seemingly always would be.
Now I have lost not just my inspiration and my mentor. I have lost the person I respected most, not just in Scrabble but in every aspect of my life.
Together, we have lost a man we loved.
And nothing will ever be the same again.
Gerry Carter learned to play Scrabble in Thailand and has known Amnuay for 25 years