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Obituary: Robert Ford (1923 - 2013) PDF Print E-mail
[27 September 2013] Robert Ford, Vice President of Tibet Society and former Council Member, died at the age of 90 on 20 September 2013. His connection with Tibet was unique - he happened to be in a remote spot in Tibet at a time of dramatic events - and no one can experience again what Robert experienced.

Robert Ford in 2008Known affectionately by Tibetans as Phodo Kusho (Honourable Gentleman Ford), Robert Ford
(pictured right in 2008) was the only British citizen to serve as an employee of the independent Tibetan government in the 1940s. He worked as a radio operator and was assigned the task of setting up Tibets first broadcasting station. When appointed he knew very little about Tibet except that it promised adventure. He certainly got more adventure than he bargained for!

In October 1950, the Chinese invaded Tibet and within days Robert was captured in Chamdo, near the border with China
(pictured right). The Peoples Liberation Army was rabidly triumphalist, having recently defeated the Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-Shek who withdrew to Formosa/Taiwan. Robert was everything the Chinese communists wanted - a westerner, an imperialist (so they thought), a spy - everything they needed to justify their invasion of Tibet which was ostensibly to rid Tibet of American and British imperialism.

Captured in 1950Robert was paraded in public, subjected to intense interrogation, isolation and brain-washing - one of the earliest examples of this technique which was only just becoming familiar to the West. To terrify him more they accused him of having murdered Geda Lama - a Living Buddha who was actually a Chinese spy and stooge. He was the only European to suffer capture and imprisonment by the Chinese for his unswerving loyalty to Tibet. A loyalty and affection that was recognised and appreciated by Tibetans throughout his life.

Captured in TibetWhen released from gaol in Chungking in 1955, he joined the British Diplomatic Service and in 1957 wrote about his extraordinary experience in
Captured in Tibet. This was re-published in 1958 as Wind Between the Worlds. However, as a servant of HMG he was unable to comment on sensitive political matters such as the situation in Tibet, but when he retired from the diplomatic service in 1983 he openly and proudly supported the Tibetan cause. He became a Council Member of Tibet Society, the worlds first Tibet support group, where he brought great experience and wisdom to the meetings.

In honour of his loyalty to Tibet, in March 2013, the Tibetan Community in the UK put on a special celebration for his 90th birthday at Tibet House in London. The Dalai Lamas Representative, Thubten Samdup, presented Robert with the last of his Tibetan salary (which because he was captured he never received) - a 100 srang note of Tibetan currency. Robert was deeply touched and moved by this occasion.

Light of Truth Award 2013In April 2013, he was presented with the Light of Truth Award by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Switzerland (pictured right). In his acceptance speech on receiving the award, Robert said, I am a member of a rather exclusive club of Westerners who have the privilege and good fortune to see, know and witness a free Tibet before 1950. I spent some of the happiest days of my life in Tibet. The Tibet that I found when I first went there in 1945 was vastly different to the Tibet of today. It was an independent country with its own government, its own language, culture, customs and way of life To me as an outsider, the most remarkable feature of Tibetans was their devotion to their religion and their unswerving support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Another striking feature was their remarkable self-reliance both in the material and the spiritual sense. Tibet valued its self-imposed isolation and independence. Its simple wish was to be left alone to run its own affairs in the way that it thought best.

Born in Staffordshire in 1923, he married his childhood friend, Monica Tebbett and had two sons, Giles and Martin. He was awarded a CBE for his diplomatic service in 1982 and continued to travel widely, giving lectures on many aspects of Tibetan and Chinese affairs to audiences in Europe, the United States and Australia. He remained physically active throughout his life. He enjoyed walking, skiing and dancing (even teaching the Tibetans in Lhasa how to do the samba!).

In his 90th year he said, One of the advantages of living a long life like me is that you witness some extraordinary changes, some of which earlier in your life you would never imagine could have happened. This gives me great hope and I wish with all my heart that we will once again see a return to a free Tibet.

Robert Ford (Phodo Kushu) was indeed an honourable gentleman, blessed with a fine intellect, a deep knowledge and love of Tibet, a sparkling dry wit and was a wonderful inspiration to many. He will be much missed and our thoughts at this time go out to his sons, Giles and Martin and their families.

A selection of obituaries from external sources:
CTA I ICTBBC I Telegraph I Economist I SCMP

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