Thant, Mme

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Thant, Mme

Burmese wife of the secretary-general of the United Nations during the Cold War era. Name variations: Daw Thein Tin; Ma Thein Tin. Born Ma Thein Tin in Mandalay, Burma (now Myanmar); daughter of U Khinn (a lawyer) and Daw Kye; married Maung Thant (U Thant), in November 1934; children: Maung Boh (b. 1936, died in infancy); Saw Lwin (adopted); Aye Aye; Maung Tin Maung (d. 1962); grandchildren: Thant Myint U (b. January 31, 1966).

Mme Thant, born Ma Thein Tin in Mandalay, Burma (now Myanmar), was the only daughter of Daw Kye and U Khinn, a prominent lawyer. After Khinn died while Ma Thein Tin was still in her teens, she moved with her mother to the house of her maternal grandparents in Pantanaw in lower Burma. Ma Thein Tin grew up there in a devout and conservative family environment. After graduating from high school, where she studied Pali, the Buddhist scriptural language, in 1934 she married Maung U Thant, the well-educated superintendent of Pantanaw schools and a journalist. Their first son was born two years later but died in infancy; the couple then adopted a boy, Saw Lwin. Ma Thein Tin later gave birth to two surviving children, a daughter Aye-Aye and a son Maung Tin Maung. The family settled in Rangoon after World War II, where U Thant joined the new Burmese independent government. He was given increasingly responsible positions and was frequently away from home, leaving Ma Thein Tin, who often suffered from ill health, to raise the three children alone.

In 1957, U Thant became Burma's representative to the United Nations and the family moved to New York City. Ma Thein Tin was unhappy in New York, but her husband's growing importance in international politics prevented her from returning to Burma. In 1961, U Thant became acting secretary-general of the UN after Dag Hammerskjöld died in an airplane crash; he was later elected to the post permanently, serving from 1962 to 1966. Ma Thein Tin's ill health was worsened by constant homesickness and the sudden death of her son Maung Tin Maung in 1962; he had fallen from a moving bus in Rangoon and suffered massive head injuries. Overwrought and unable to return to Burma, even for the funeral of her own son, Ma Thein Tin grew increasingly withdrawn. Although U Thant and Ma Thein Tin wanted to return to Burma when his term expired, U Thant was compelled to accept a second four-year term as secretary-general. Ma Thein Tin rarely attended official events with her husband, preferring to remain quietly at home, and received few visitors. U Thant retired in 1971, and died in November 1974 at their New York home.


Frederick, Pauline. Ten First Ladies of the World. NY: Meredith Press, 1967.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California