Happy Thai Girl
“My husband hates taking me out because I’m so picky. My tongue is so weird; I taste anything and everything,” says June Williamson (BS ’91). In time her sensitive taste buds led to a culinary career with a published cookbook and a cooking segment on local TV. In her early years, however, her prospects were not good. Born in a poor village in Thailand, she lived in a house built on stilts to prevent flood damage and recalls “running around chasing chickens under the house.” While still a child, her parents divorced. Her mother remarried an American Air Force man who adopted Williamson and her two sisters. Williamson says, “He’s my adoptive father but I consider him my father because he completely raised us.” Her adoptive father encouraged the girls’ education and expected all three of them to attend college, which they did.
Despite her childhood privations and difficult life transitions, Williamson has earned the name Happy Thai Girl from her Instagram and blog followers. She says, “A positive attitude is everything. I’m not saying I don’t have sad days; we all do. But I feel that my incentive is my kids and my husband. I have to be positive for my family, so I can’t really be down and out.”
Before Williamson and her sisters went to college, they met two senior missionaries. The three girls were eventually baptized, and through high school, Williamson strived to go to church, even with pushback from her father. Connections there made her want to attend BYU. “I always felt like I needed to go to BYU. And when I was there in 1981, that’s where I got real conversion,” says Williamson. This conversion sparked the idea of serving a mission. Because her time at BYU was the apex of many personal and spiritual growth experiences, Williamson says, “I realize in hindsight, after all these years, that BYU is a missionary school. BYU’s mission is missionary work.”
When she submitted her mission papers, Williamson was sure she would be called to Thailand to teach people in a culture she was familiar with and in a language she knew. When the call came with her assignment—Los Angeles, California—she was less than thrilled, but she went anyway. A speaker in one of her first mission conferences erased her doubts when he said, “You missionaries are probably wondering why you’re here in L.A., but every single one of you was called by the First Presidency to come here.” Giving what he thought was a random example, the speaker said: “This sister is not supposed to go to Thailand, she is supposed to be in L.A.” This comment struck a chord with Williamson and she knew she was where Heavenly Father wanted her to be. She ended up meeting her husband in Los Angeles, and after they returned to BYU, the two dated and married.
The foundation of her testimony built at BYU and during her mission became essential as Williamson and her husband started their family. “Everybody says that each person and each family has their own Gethsemane. We all have our little trials, and big ones too. And my big challenge [has been] the death of my daughter,” Williamson explains. Her first daughter passed away in her sleep when she was just two years old. “The examiners said that if we all sat there with her, with the best doctors in the world, and watched her sleep, we could not have helped her at all. Because it was that quickly and that peacefully,” she says. The loss of her daughter became a turning point in Williamson’s life. When her oldest passed away, Williamson was already pregnant with her second child. Being pregnant forced her to take care of her health, eat food even when she didn’t feel like it, and get up and move when she just wanted to “lay and do nothing.” She was able to push through and find joy again. Since then, Williamson’s three other daughters have all grown up to serve missions and her son is now a senior in high school. “I feel like I’ve been blessed with these choice spirits, and they’re all wonderful,” Williamson says.
When her children began to leave home for college, they would call and ask Williamson for the recipes of their favorite homemade dishes. This was easy for Williamson, who loves to cook. “Everyone always wants me to cook, which is good, because when I cook, I cook for an army. I want you to feel like you can eat as much as you want and then take home leftovers,” Williamson says. When others kept asking her to write down more and more recipes, she finally decided to write her own cookbook. The success of her self-published run encouraged her to have it professionally published, and Thai Food Made Easy was born. Since the publishing of her cookbook, Williamson has done cooking segments for various TV networks. She even auditioned for The Food Network’s “Next Food Network Star,” but remarks, “Heavenly Father didn’t want me to go down that route because it would take me away from my family.” Regardless, Williamson says, “I love being on TV. The people are so happy!” And with her positive attitude, Williamson fits right in. She now has a regular cooking segment on local TV in Spanish Fork, Utah. She also holds cooking classes and works with special needs children in the schools in her area.
Williamson has lots of big plans for the future. She hopes to create more products for Thai food lovers, including a line of sauces. “I know there are other sauces out there, but mine would be the best,” she laughs. Once she retires, her dream is to open a school in the Thai village where her mother grew up to teach English to children there. She says, “Even if it just helps ten kids, I want to teach them. That’s my dream one day.”