For those who knew him – his family especially (mother Aum Chimi and siblings, his wife Aum Patrizia, son Ugyen Peljor and daughter Lara Choden), and the many devoted helpers who cared for and helped sustain him in the last days – his passing is bittersweet. The country’s sadness is mixed with both a relief that Lyonpo’s sufferings and frustrations have ended, and a deep melancholy at the premature loss of a devoted husband, father, and friend. 

Ugyen’s was a joyous life of great promise and major achievements, sadly cut short by illness with growing, frustrating incapacities. His wit, energy, good humour and diplomacy charmed those around him, and served the interest of Bhutan faithfully and well. He was intelligent, courteous and alert: a true natural gentleman. 

He was practical-minded; he enjoyed nature and long walks. In his office work, he notably enthusiastically promoted the use of the then-new computer technology, insisting that these devices were to aid computations, not to be used as mere inert data containers. 

He helped guide Bhutan’s development plans, served as Bhutan’s top international diplomat, was Foreign Secretary, Minister of Labour and Natural Resources, and latterly Minister of Foreign Affairs. 

Ugyen was born in Thimphu in 1954, and was the grandson of Tsering Dorji from the Drametsi Choji family. His father Dasho Jochu served terms as Thimphu Zimpon. 

Following initial education as a North Pointer in Darjeeling, he studied social sciences and economics as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California Berkeley (1974-1978).  On return to Bhutan, as a civil servant he was deeply involved from 1978 to 1989 in the Five-Year development plans, a time of significant economic and social change in Bhutan.

He worked closely with His Majesty the Fourth King (chairman of the Planning Commission until 1991), contributing valuable expertise from his overseas experience and training.

From 1989 to 1998, on His Majesty’s nomination, Ugyen was Bhutan’s Permanent Representative to the UN at New York, where his tenure was highly regarded. His work enhanced Bhutan’s role and presence at that august body. 

In 1998, he returned to Bhutan to take up a new role as Foreign Secretary, which he held until 2003. 

In June 2003, at the 81st session of the National Assembly, he was among seven candidates nominated by His Majesty for five cabinet posts. Upon his successful election by the Assembly, His Majesty subsequently awarded him the portfolio of Minister for Labour and Natural Resources, a post he held until 2007. 

In mid-2007, a Thimphu newspaper reported that he, and four other ministers, had been approached by the new All People’s Party (APP) to join for the forthcoming first national parliamentary elections. Lyonpo was “contemplating to join a party”, and he “wanted to contribute meaningfully to the democratic process”. The APP briefly joined forces with a predecessor group, Bhutan United People Party, in August 2007: but within days a new grouping, the Druk Democratic Party (Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, DPT), was formed, with Lyonpo Jigme Y. Thinley (“JYT”) as President and Lyonpo Ugyen as Secretary-General.

In September that year, Ugyen and six other Ministers resigned from the civil service in order to contest in the forthcoming elections for the first constitutional democratic parliament of Bhutan. 

Upon the success of the DPT in 2008, as new Prime Minister, Jigme Thinley chose Ugyen to be Foreign Minister of this first government, a post that he served with distinction. It is a high credit to JYT that he retained Ugyen in post, despite his sometimes lengthy absences for medical reasons.

 Ugyen had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) in 2005. By 2010 the disease had progressed very rapidly. Regular specialist treatment in Bangkok and New York helped alleviate his symptoms, but could not prevent the devastating course of the affliction. 

In July 2013, with the defeat of DPT at the elections, Lyonpo withdrew from public life. Earlier that year, while he was still a Minister, his eloquent reflections on policy issues and resistance to PD were valuably documented by journalist Namgay Zam (in the BBS video series “Talking Matters” – ). (Namgay Zam now comperes the podcast series “Hello from Bhutan!” – ) 

When it became impractical for him to travel outside Bhutan, he received every comfort at the family homes in Thimphu and Punakha. His declining circumstances allowed few visitors, but those included former Prime Minister JYT who would not forego paying respects to his long-time colleague. Latterly, in Thimphu, Ugyen was admitted to intensive care for his last days.

These above words are the mere backbone of Ugyen’s contributions to Bhutan. Hopefully, in due course there will be compiled and published a full accounting, for the record, of the life and achievements of this patriot.  

Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering was widely regarded as one of Bhutan’s most beloved civil servants. 

The public convey their sincere and deep condolences to Aum Chimi and siblings, and to Aum Patrizia and family.

Rest well, kind and thoughtful Lyonpo: thank you for your good work.

May you make safe rebirth in your beloved Drukyul.

Contributed by Dr Brian C. J. Shaw 

(independent researcher) was awarded the National Order of Merit Gold in 2019, in recognition of services to Bhutan.