Sarah McLean, philanthropist and respected journalist has passed on

Sarah McLean.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand extends its deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Sarah McLean who died peacefully and without pain on Wednesday Oct. 5, in Chiang Mai in the company of her husband, Denis Gray, and her three children, Amanda, Grant and Vanessa from her earlier marriage to Ian McLean.
Posting on Facebook, Gray described McLean as “the kindest and most generous person I have ever known”, and said her last words were: “I have lived a wonderful life. I will miss you all terribly.”

“Sarah brought not only joy but hard work on behalf of her beloved journalism students from Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, the very poor in our village, an orphanage nearby and many others. The outpouring of love in our village has been amazing.

McLean spent childhood years in Hong Kong and South Africa, and studied at Great Ormand Street Children’s Hospital in London before arriving in Bangkok with the British Foreign Office in the 1960s to work at the British Embassy.
Her unmatched people and organizational skills were the driving forces behind the Indochina Media Memorial Foundation in Thailand, which McLean directed from 1994 to 2009 from offices in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Her personal legacy to journalism in Southeast Asia is incalculable.

IMMF-Thailand provided training for nearly 900 journalists from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar, conducting 23 regional training courses in Thailand and 25 workshops in the five countries. It pioneered the concept of bringing journalists from the region together on courses as well as training media inside military-ruled Myanmar prior to 2010 and in remote areas of Laos. A number of IMMF-Thailand alumni have been promoted to senior positions in radio broadcast, television, photography and the print media.

Outstanding alumni were assisted in obtaining scholarships and entry into media studies in Europe and the United States. IMMF-Thailand also commissioned, edited and published basic and advanced journalism training manuals in English and five of the vernaculars of mainland Southeast Asia. These continue to be widely used.

Sarah McLean in her element on an IMMF field trip in the early 2000s.

In 1995, IMMF-Thailand provided a grant to the Photo Archive Group in Cambodia to preserve archival photos of the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide in Phnom Penh. It commissioned reports on the state of historic films held in Vietnamese and Lao film archives. IMMF-Thailand also sponsored reports on the state of journalism and the media in the five countries it served and shared this information with other development organizations.

IMMF-Thailand’s courses focused on basic skills and sound journalistic practices and normally revolved around specific themes including the environment, agriculture, ethnic minorities, social issues and business-economics. Experts were invited as lecturers but IMMF-Thailand’s emphasis was on an “outdoor classroom,” with students spending segments of every course in the field. Trainers were all former or practicing journalists, and highly regarded in their fields. Many came through Britain’s Thomson Foundation.

IMMF-Thailand’s regional courses, conducted in English, averaged 16 students and lasted four weeks. The shorter in-country workshops, mainly in Laos and Myanmar, were taught through interpreters. Several exhibitions of photographs from the courses were staged and a number of articles by IMMF-Thailand alumni were published in Bangkok newspapers.

The organization was supported by major private organizations, government agencies and individual donors in 13 Asian, European and North American countries.
McLean was utterly adored by her students, who often called her “Mother.” She nurtured them in return and continued her philanthropy from her retirement home in Doi Saket, helping the very poor, an orphanage and any other good causes that came her way.
“The outpouring of love in our village has been amazing,” wrote Gray, as messages of grief, love and condolence flowed in from all parts of Southeast Asia and further afield.

“Sarah brought not only joy but hard work on behalf of her beloved journalism students from Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, the very poor in our village, an orphanage nearby and many others. The outpouring of love in our village has been amazing.

For those who are nearby and can come there will be Buddhist services at Wat Wangtharn, Tambon Luang Nua, Amphoe Doi Saket:

Thur Oct. 6 at 4 p.m. hand washing ceremony and prayers at 7 p.m.
Thursday Oct. 7 Prayers at 7 pm
Friday Oct. 8 Prayers at 7 pm
Saturday Oct. 9 Prayer at 9.30 a.m. and cremation after 1 p.m.
Her ashes will be scattered on our beautiful land. The cremation ground is right next to the monastery.

Obviously we are NOT asking for any contributions to the funeral as is the custom but if any who come to the ceremony want to give it will all go the Friends of Luang Nua, our little village charity which has for many years supported the poorest among us. Now there are 30 such families.
With love, Denis