While his death triggers a certain sadness in all who had the chance to know him and who will continue to benefit from his legacy, The Phuket Newswould like to take this opportunity to remember his rich life, and to underline that legacy, one that has set Phuket in the right direction at the start of the 21stcentury.
Born on January 28, 1942 in Hamburg Germany, Dirk grew up with his mother and grandparents, as his father had been reported missing in WWII. He went to school in Hamburg, did an apprenticeship at the German Pharmaceutical Company “Boehringer Ingelheim” and continued on to Management Training at Geigy (UK) Ltd, in Manchester UK. Dirk did his National Service in wireless communications and excelled at Morse Code.
Dirk first came to Thailand in 1966, sent here by the German pharmaceutical company, Boehringer Ingelheim, and became the MD of Boehringer Ingelheim (Thai) Ltd at the unprecedented age of only 23. In 1972 he left Thailand to return to Boehringer in Germany, where he was the Senior Product Manager for Heart and Circulation Products until 1974. During this time, in 1971 and 1972 he was first the secretary and later the Vice-President of the German-Thai Chamber of Commerce.
From 1974 to 1977 he was the Regional Manager Europe and Asia at Dr Maddaus & Co, in Cologne, Germany. In 1977 he moved to the Philippines and became the Vice President for Marketing at Zuellig Pharma Corp in Manila. From 1978 to 1980 Dirk was the Funding President of the German Speaking School in Manila.
Dirk finally returned to Thailand in 1982 where he held the position of Chief Executive of Zuellig Pharma Ltd, Bangkok, until 1998, when he became President of Metro Drug Inc of the Zuellig Group in Manila from 1999 until 2000, and was Non-Executive Chairman of Zuellig Pharma Ltd in Bangkok until 2003, having acutally retired from “work” in 2001. From 1988 to 1990 he was the President of the Pharmaceutical Producers Association in Bangkok and from 1992 to 1993 President of the Rotary Club of Bangkok South.
From 2007 to 2011 Dirk was Chairman of the Board of Parazelsus (Orient) Ltd, in Singapore. Dirk recieved the “Order of Merit” Award from the President of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2009.
Dirk had a keen interest in Art and lived his passion by opening an “Old Maps and Prints” Gallery in River City in Bangkok in 1996 together with a friend. It was here that he met Khun Somporn “Zhu” Trakarnboonchai, a talented interior designer and silver and art dealer, whom he married November 1, 2007.
A few years into retirement, in 2002, Dirk was approached by the German Embassy to be appointed as Honorary Consul, an appointment which he proudly accepted and which came with the responsibility of looking after the interests of some 4,500 Germans throughout Southern Thailand – from Chumphon province, all the way down to the Malaysian border, including Koh Samui and Phuket, and everything in between.
Luckily for all of us, Dirk took his role seriously and was sure to use his influence in a positive way, for the benefit of not only German citizens, but for all the tens and thousands of expats in Phuket – likewise, and most certainly, the hundreds of thousands of Thais who make a living doing business with international clientele here.
During his 12 years as Honorary Consul, Mr Naumann, built a firm reputation for talking straight, raising serious issues in Phuket with high-level officials.
Among the main issues that he effectively brought out onto the open discussion table – and thus to the direct attention of the government – include recurring issues with violent, aggressive, scheming and cheating jet-ski, taxi and tuk tuk operators, as well as as waste-water pollution, all issues of which stood, and still stand, to cause great damage not only to the reputation of Phuket, but to the income and wellbeing of all of its residents – Thais and foreigners alike.
But dealing with officialdom’s early stages of denial and anger weren’t without stresses and many of long, heated negotiations and discussions resulted in what may have seemed at the time as pure face-saving incompetence.
And today, as it starts to become clear that the government has made the transition from denial to acceptance that these issues which Dirk worked so hard to underline in fact are real and are a big threat to Phuket if continued to be left unaddressed, we all have Dirk to thank today for this slow-but-certain change in policy.
But the changes still have a long way to go, as Dirk underlined in an interview with The Phuket News on the announcement of his retirement as Honorary Counsul two years ago.
The pollution of Phuket’s waters were especially a sore point with Dirk, as the ocean was one of the main reasons why he moved to Phuket in the first place.
“When I came 11 years ago, my primary objective was to sail, because I loved the sea, beaches and the sun,” he said back then.
But when a fellow German came to Phuket in 2007 and conducted independent testing of the water and informed Dirk that almost all of the beaches in Phuket were unsafe for swimming, Dirk stopped swimming off Phuket’s shores from that day on, and commited himself to raising the issue with local authorities, often hitting brick walls.
And that’s where he effectively used international media to bring serious attention. He was instrumental in helping set up and assisting two separate German TV programme makers to visit to investigate water pollution levels, one of which was Wir Retten Ihren Urlaub(We Save Your Holiday), which caused a Public Relations scare among Thai tourism promoters in 2011, but with good reason.
“The Phuket government just does not have enough funds to fix the problems,” says Dirk. “The central government, in fact, has never allocated sufficient funds, regardless of whether Abhisit or Shinawatra [is in charge], they only take, take, take. Now the scars on the Phuket environment are very evident and horrendous.” Dirk said.
In parting, Dirk has left us with a treasure chest of valuable advice for effecting positive change in Phuket.
“…There needs to be proper studies done, proper statistics [gathered], it’s not just about visitor numbers. We need to look at how much the Russians and Chinese are actually spending, and how many Phuket restaurants, owned by Phuket people, they are going to!”
“Chinese buy food at 7-Elevens and go back to their Chinese-owned hotel and play mahjong. They don’t spend money or stay for the same kind of nights in hotels like the Europeans did.
“People will one day wake up: the Europeans are leaving and finding other places like Bali, the Australians are leaving, and the Russians and Chinese will eventually leave. The congestion and pollution will eventually take its toll.”
It is for this reason that Dirk believed it is the duty of media in Phuket to never shy away from pointing out the negative aspects of life here, the elements that he says are destroying Phuket – without destroying Phuket as a tourist destination. This he says is, of course, a delicate balance.
Although he believes that Phuket is not yet at the point of no return, he says the island is still headed down the same unsustainable road it has been ever since being discovered as a tourist destination.
Although Dirk was critical of many things that were not as good as they could be, that didn’t mean he ever stopped caring about Phuket or Thailand. In fact, it was quite the opposite. He actually loved this place, his adopted home, particularly the freedom that living in Thailand gave him.
“It is the one country where you are truly free. Free to succeed and equally free to fail. NO ONE will stop (or assist, for that matter) you going either way. Up or down, it was your choice."
This freedom he used over the last nearly 35 years to put several students through university. He also saw his role as Honorary Consul as a way of giving back something both to Thailand and to Germany.
This is where he chose to live his final years... days. “Why do I still love Thailand?” he said, “It’s very easy for me. It’s very warm and I like the food and the people. And I love the mai pen raiattitude – I like this attitude a lot.”
His final years of retired life were spent the way he had intended, in the company of loved ones. Dirk is survived by his wife, Zhu Naumann, his three daughters, including Marlene Howels, Johanna Probert, Anette Jimenez Hoechstetter, and two grandchildren, Isabella Probert and Timoty Jimenez Hoechstetter.