A tribute

Lyonpo Chenkyab Dorji was born in Wangtsa village, Haa Dzongkhag, in 1941. Until the age of seven, he helped his parents with farm work and household chores. When he turned eight, he had the good fortune of being selected to attend the school in Haa, which was run by his Uncle, Lopen Dago Gyalsthen. This changed the course of his life.

Six years later, in 1955, Lyonpo was among 37 students selected to go to Bhutan House in Kalimpong.  As there were no motorable roads from Bhutan to India then, they had to make elaborate preparations for the trek to Gangkok, Sikkim, via Tibet and then onward by bus to Kalimpong. The five and half day trek from Haa to Gangtok, took them via Damthang, Charithang, Tibet, Chumbi valley, Chhamjhi, Nathula Pass and finally Gangtok. This was the regular trekking route for Lyonpo and other students from Haa from 1955 to 1959.

Of the 37 students, 23, which included Lyonpo, were selected to study at the Birla Bidya Mandir School in Nainital in India in 1956. Thereafter, he joined St. Joseph’s College, North Point, Darjeeling, and obtained the Indian School Certificate (ISC) in Intermediate Science from 1959 to 1961.

Lyonpo joined the Civil Service in the Department of Forests on 1 October 1961 and was posted to Kalikhola (now Lhamoi Zingkha). He began his service to the nation from a tent since Kalikhola then had no houses that could be used as office or living quarters.

Lyonpo obtained a B.Sc. degree in Forestry in 1963 from the Northern Forest Rangers College in Dehradun, India, and a Masters degree in Forestry in 1967 from the Indian Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, where he bagged the best Foreign Student Award. In 1970, Lyonpo completed a post graduate course in Forestry at the Swiss Technical Institute (ETH) under the University of Zurich and in 1975, he underwent a post graduate course in Wood Technology and Transport at the Forest Training Centre in Ossiach, Austria.

Since joining the civil service, Lyonpo had the privilege and honour to serve the Royal Government in various capacities. He was the Director of the Forest Department from 1967 to 1984 during which time in line with the vision of our Monarchs, he worked to increase the forest cover of Bhutan. He also served on the Board of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) from 1983-1985. He was promoted to Secretary in the Ministry of Trade, Industries and Mines, Ministry of Trade, Industry and Forests and Ministry of Agriculture between 1984 to 1986.

In August 1986, he was appointed as the Secretary, Planning Commission; and from 1988 to 1998, Lyonpo rose to Deputy Minister and thereafter became the Minister/Chairman of the Planning Commission. During his tenure with the Planning Commission, Lyonpo was responsible for the formulation of the 6th (1987-1992), 7th (1992-1997) and 8th (1997-2002) Five Year Development Plans for which he accompanied His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo throughout the country to consult the people and monitor and review development plans. As Minister of Planning, Lyonpo was also responsible for resource mobilization and coordination of development programs with bilateral and multilateral development agencies and partners. He was the first Chairman of the National Environment Commission and played an instrumental role in the establishment of the Bhutan Environment Trust Fund.

In 1999, he was appointed as the first resident Ambassador of Bhutan to the Kingdom of Thailand with concurrent accreditation as non-resident Ambassador to Singapore. From 2005 to 2008, Lyonpo served as the first Secretary General of SAARC from Bhutan. In 2008, Lyonpo was appointed as the first Chairman of the Privy Council by His Majesty The King.

In addition to his official positions, Lyonpo served on various important national bodies: member of Cabinet from 1978 to 1998 and member of the National Assembly from 1975 to 1998. He was a member of the Royal Civil Service Commission and Dzongkha Development Committee. He also served as a Board Member of the Royal Monetary Authority, Tala Hydroelectric Project Authority, Chukha Hydroelectric Project Authority, Bank of Bhutan, Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan, Power Development and Planning Board, Gedu Wood Manufacturing Corporation, Equipment Standardization, Central Town Planning Committee, Coordination Committee, Stamps Selection Committee, Housing Committee, Aircraft Selection Committee and Tala Particle Board. Titles published by Lyonpo include the Flora of Bhutan and the National Forest Survey,  both of which continue to be the dictionary and resource for forestry in Bhutan, as well as the National Forest Policy (1974) and the Bhutan Forest Act (1969).

Lyonpo is a recipient of the Coronation Gold Medal from His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo in 1974. He was conferred the Red Scarf by His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo in 1975. In 1988, he was conferred the orange scarf with the rank of Deputy Minister and in 1991, he received the orange scarf with the title of Lyonpo from His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

In 2008, His Majesty The King awarded Lyonpo the Coronation Gold Medal and in 2017, he was conferred the Druk Thuksey Medal (Heart Son of Bhutan) during the 110th National Day celebrations in Haa.

Throughout his service, Lyonpo was known among his colleagues as the exemplar of someone with the values of hard work, discipline and unquestionable loyalty to our Monarchs. Service to the King, Country and People always took priority in his life.   He was known to be a tough taskmaster, who expected the highest standards of work from his subordinates.  Many of them later appreciated that these qualities stood them in good stead when they went on to assume senior positions in their careers. This stemmed from his firm belief that it was his responsibility to train the future generation of Bhutanese leaders.

Lyonpo was regarded as having excellent public relations. He had the ability to not only make good friends but also nurture and maintain these friendships for the benefit of the country. These skills were on full display when he was Ambassador in Thailand and Secretary General of SAARC, where he proved himself as an outstanding diplomat.

Lyonpo considered himself to be extremely fortunate to have received excellent educational opportunities that changed the trajectory of his life. He truly believed in the power of education in transforming lives, so throughout his career, he created opportunities for many Bhutanese children to attend school and college. Through this, he touched the lives of thousands of people. He was always available to anyone who wanted to consult and seek his counsel and guidance.

To his wife, children and grandchildren, he was a loving husband, caring father and doting grandfather. He always underscored the fundamental importance of “tha damtshi lay jumdrae” in whatever we did and instilled in us the values of integrity, discipline, kindness and perseverance. He was the beacon of hope for the family in good and bad times and was always there to guide and help us. He was a firm believer in being a good human being and in being grateful to your parents for the love and care they provided. He was, indeed, our greatest inspiration and the values and morals he subscribed to are indelibly etched in us.

His passing has left a huge void in the family.   As we endeavour to come to terms with this irreplaceable personal loss, we take comfort in the fact that he lived a successful and fulfilling life and above all, because he left after having had the greatest honour and privilege to serve His Majesty The King, His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo and His Majesty The Third Druk Gyalpo. Service to the King and nation with unequivocal loyalty, commitment and devotion was his religion, faith and conviction. The family will miss him most dearly, but we will celebrate his life, his legacy and his accomplishments and always remain true to the values and principles he subscribed to and taught us to respect and uphold at all times.

Lyonpo is survived by his wife, three children and seven grandchildren.