A King Visits Rice

Seriously, a real king.

Not long ago I got a very big surprise via campus mail. Marilyn Hellums, the wife of Rice Chemical Engineering professor David Hellums, sent over some photos of Belgian King Baudouin touring Rice. (Here is an obituary from 1993 that includes a nice biographical sketch.) Although she seemed confident in her note that I must already have these pictures, she could not have been more wrong. I was completely flabbergasted. We keep lists of important visitors in the archives, but there is no record of this visit anywhere and I couldn’t find any mention of it in any Rice publication either. Although it’s hard to imagine, King Baudouin seems to have slipped in under the radar. That’s him in the light colored suit and sunglasses above, looking over at a pre-mustache David Hellums, who was shepherding him around campus. I don’t recognize anyone else here.

The king seems to have been interested especially in the artificial heart project that was ongoing at the time–these look like parts from one of the experiments. Based on the window hardware, they’re either in Lovett or the Mech Lab.

The pictures are undated, but I guessed that it must be 1969 or 1970 based on this photo of the King, Hellums, Carey Croneis and Frank Vandiver having coffee–this must have been taken during the period between the Masterson Crisis and the beginning of Norman Hackerman’s tenure.

State Department records confirm that King Baudoin was in the U.S. from May 17th through the 23rd in 1969, a visit that included a trip to Cape Kennedy to view the launch of Apollo 10. I find this entire episode–both the fact that it happened and the fact that there’s no record of it–powerfully interesting. If anyone knows anything else about it, please do get in touch.

Bonus: Lovett Hall window.

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22 Responses to A King Visits Rice

  1. Sandy Havens says:

    Melissa, I suggest that in the middle photo the person holding the heart pump is Bill Ackers. Bill was instrumental in its development. I wish I knew more.

  2. Those big glass ashtrays in the second picture. Reminds me of my mother. She had all kinds of ashtrays before my dad quit smoking. He wouldn’t use them because they were too nice. 🙂

  3. Wendy Kilpatrick Laubach '78 says:

    I used to think there had been a king of Bhutan in my art classes in the mid-70s; he was known on campus simply as “Jigme,” which was how he signed all his drawings, and at the time he was understood by his classmates to be some kind of “prince of Tibet” whose mail arrived with return addresses referring simply to “the palace.” Wiki tells me, however, that the actual king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, was my classmate’s cousin, with a very similar name. Perhaps his mail did come from “the palace,” I don’t know.

    The real king, when he was formally crowned on 2 June 1974, was the youngest monarch in the world at eighteen years of age.

    • Russell Coleman says:

      Correct I played soccer with Jigme Yapshi …he was a prince of Sikkim but not crown prince.

  4. Tiki Owl says:

    King Baudouin was a friend of Michael DeBakey so it’s no surprise that part of the Rice visit included Ackers. During this visit King Baudouin visited the Med Center and NASA as well as Rice.

  5. effegee says:

    I don’t see Bill Akers in any of these pictures. But isn’t that Hardy Bourland in the bow tie at the left hand side of the back of the pack in the first picture? Hardy was in Bioengineering. Like Hellums, you have to imagine some changes like glasses and less dark hair.

  6. Bill Allison says:

    Can’t help with the King, but Prince Jigme Phunkhang of Sikkim was a student in the early 1970s and played on the soccer team.

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  8. Tom Dydek (Hanszen '69) says:

    Yes, Jigme Yapshi was from Sikkim and was at Rice. What a great guy! He and I played soccer on the Rice (Club) team. We had a memorable experience one time when we had a match scheduled against Texas Tech in Lubbock. As I remember it, rather than driving 10 or 12 hours to get there, another team mate, Al Coffin, offered to fly us and one other guy up there in a four-seat private plane. Al was in ROTC and had his pilot’s license. Since we were all smart Rice students, we said “yeah!”…I mean what could possibly go wrong?
    All went well as we flew up there sometime in the Spring of 1970 or 1971. The only problem was springtime in Lubbock features quite a bit of wind. As it happened that day, the wind was blowing across the runway at 40 mph or so. We were coming in for a landing, about 50 feet off the ground when a gust hit the plane and the wings tilted about 30 degrees off the horizontal. Jigme and I, seated in the back seat of the plane, began screaming like little girls. Fortunately, Al somehow straightened out the plane and we landed safely. On another note, Jigme was one of my groomsmen when I married Rice girl Margaret Thompson in 1972.

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  10. effegee says:

    First picture, partial face just to the left of Hellums’ right shoulder: Isn’t that Angelo Miele?

  11. David R. Strong says:

    Jigme Yapshi (as I knew him), Crown Prince of Sikkim, was a friend of mine. I started at Will Rice College in Fall 1970. When his mothet visited, i hot to ride in the car with her. He liked the wine I had brought to a wine-tasting. Saw him a few times adterwards, sadly lost touch.

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  14. Russell Coleman says:

    Jigme on Facebook lol

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