Remembering Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering

Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering, a long-time servant of Bhutan, recently passed away. The first democratically-elected foreign minister was known for his intelligence, hard work, eloquence, and humility. Lyonpo Ugyen brought the first computer to Bhutan and had a hand in purchasing the country’s first aircraft. He spent his life serving the country under the reigns of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, and His Majesty The King. Afflicted by Parkinson’s disease, Lyonpo retired from public life in 2013. Here is a look back at his life and legacy. 

Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering was born in August 1954 to Dasho Jochu, in a historically significant family who served all the monarchs of Bhutan through successive generations.

Lyonpo Ugyen went to Saint Joseph’s School, North Point in Darjeeling, India. He later studied at the UC Berkeley in the United States.

Between 1978 and 1989, Lyonpo served in the erstwhile Planning Commission.

Former Education Minister, Thakur Singh Powdyel is a close associate of the Lyonpo. He spoke about how Lyonpo Ugyen’s speech about Bhutan’s planning process to graduates in 1981 left many impressed.

“Lyonpo immediately made a deep impression on all of us young men and women, fresh from universities and colleges, looking for a place for ourselves to do our part in building Bhutan.”

Similarly, French-born Francoise Pommaret, now a Bhutanese citizen reminisced about the friendship the Lyonpo and she shared for over 40 years.

“What I want to remember about Lyonpo is how he was a bright, starry-eyed young skinny guy. In the early 80s, when he was a young officer at the planning commission, a very promising officer already. And he was one of the first to have a car in Thimphu. He had a beige ISUZU (old ISUZU) and he was just coming back from Berkeley, and extremely bright, you could notice him immediately. But also what you notice and which he kept for his whole life is his innate gentleness and elegance.”

Tashi said he was an extremely kind person. Lyonpo always considered everybody, big or small, the same.

Likewise, Patrizia met Lyonpo Ugyen three weeks after coming to Bhutan in 1982 as a UN delegate. Three years later, the two tied the knot.

“The thing that attracted me most in Ugyen right from the beginning was astonishing. He was an extremely intelligent person, profound and extremely compassionate and kind. So, this was something that I have not seen in other people and I consider it my privilege to have met my husband in my life. Of course, I miss him. I will miss him. But I have had a great chance and I will always treasure him, having met him and having spent our life together.”

Serving as Bhutan’s ambassador to the United Nations, perhaps Lyonpo’s biggest achievement was safeguarding Bhutan’s interests in the international community during the challenging years of the 1990s.

Following a successful tenure in New York, Lyonpo was appointed the foreign secretary in 1998. Patrizia said that Lyonpo was the happiest when their two children were born in New York.

“For my husband, he always used to say it was the happiest moment in his life the day his two children were born. He was a very proud father. I am a very proud mother with our children being very close to us and making us proud. They have been doing very well.”

Lyonpo was appointed the labour minister in 2003 before forming the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa with four other colleagues in 2007 when democracy was introduced in the country.

He was later elected as the first foreign minister of Bhutan from the North Thimphu Constituency.

After retiring from public life in 2013 due to Parkinson’s disease, Lyonpo’s colleagues shared how they all missed his intelligence, loyalty, and devotion.

Lyonpo passed away almost a month ago at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital.

“At a human level, as a nation and as a people, we all need models for inspiration. In my view, Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering was a great model for civil servants, for public functionaries, and even as one aspires to be a good, fully-fledged, well flourished human being,” said Former Education Minister, Thakur Singh Powdyel.

“I was amazed by his devotion to his country. But especially his love and affection for His Majesty the Fourth King and the Fifth King. He always felt it was such a great honour and privilege to serve Their Majesties. And I am very grateful for the respect and affection that Their Majesties have had for us, and especially my husband until the very end.”

Lyonpo Ugyen’s funeral rites were carried out in Chubachu, the compound where he grew up and spent time until he got married.

The 28th day of passing rites was performed at the Talo Goenpa in Punakha, yesterday.

Devika Pradhan

Edited by Sherub Dorji

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