UK Tibetans celebrate the 90th birthday of Mr Robert Ford CBE, the first foreigner to be given an official rank by the Government of Tibet
London, 21 March 2013: Tibetans in the UK will be celebrating the 90th birthday of Mr Robert Ford CBE. Mr Ford was born on 27 March 1923 in Straffordshire, England.
Mr Ford first travelled to Tibet in 1945 to join the British Mission in Lhasa as a radio operator. It was during this time that Mr Ford had his first audience with Holiness the Dalai Lama, who was then 11 years of age. In 1947, he was asked by the Government of Tibet to join it’s service to start Tibet’s first broadcasting station, train Tibetan radio operators and set up a radio communications network throughout Tibet. He was the first foreigner to be employed by the Government of Tibet and given an official rank.
In 1950, Mr Ford was captured in Chamdo, Tibet, by the invading Chinese forces and imprisoned for nearly five years. He has worked tirelessly as an advocate for the Tibetan cause for more than half a century since he was expelled from Tibet by the Chinese Communist authorities in 1955.
Mr Robert Ford’s 90th birthday reception will be held at 2pm on Saturday 23 March 2013 at the Kailash Centre (London, NW8 7AA) and hosted by Mr Thubten Samdup, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Office of Tibet. Mr Ford will attend the reception along with members of his family and will be joined by the Tibetan community in the UK as well as other friends of the Tibetan people.
Mr Thubten Samdup, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, said: “Mr Robert Ford is a part of Tibetan history. He is perhaps the only surviving Westerner who witnessed a free and independent Tibet. We are delighted to be holding this reception in his honour.”
Biography of Robert Ford CBE
Robert Ford was born on 27 March 1923, in Staffordshire. He served in the Royal Air Force as a radio technician during World War II, in England and in India. In 1945 he joined the British Mission in Lhasa, as a Radio Officer. It was during this time that Robert had his first audience with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, when His Holiness was a boy of 11.
In late 1945, Robert transferred to the Political Office in Gangtok, Sikkim and remained there until 1947, when India became independent. It was then that he was able to fulfil an ambition to return to Tibet. He was asked by the Government of Tibet to join its service, to start Tibet’s first broadcasting station, train Tibetan radio operators and set up a radio communications network throughout Tibet. He was the first foreigner to be employed by the Government of Tibet and given an official rank.
After a year in Lhasa, Robert was asked to go to Chamdo in Kham, eastern Tibet’s capital, to establish a radio link between Lhasa and Chamdo and thereby expand the Tibetan radio communications network. In 1949 Robert and three wireless operator students travelled the northern route to Chamdo. He was the first and possibly the only westerner to travel this route.
In 1950 Robert, along with other Tibetan officials, was captured by the invading Chinese forces. An earthquake had cut off his planned escape route. The People’s Republic of China accused him of espionage, spreading anti-communist propaganda and causing the death of Geda Lama. Robert spent nearly 5 years in jail, in constant fear of being executed, and was subjected to interrogation and thought reform. Only in 1954 was he allowed to send a letter to his parents. At the end of 1954 his trial was held and he was sentenced to ten years in jail. He was eventually released and expelled in 1955. In 1957, Robert published the book ‘Captured in Tibet’ about his experience. The book was re-published in 1990 with a preface by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and an epilogue by the author entitled ‘The Occupation’.
In 1957 Robert joined the British Diplomatic Service. During his career he served in the Foreign Office in London and at various posts around the world; in Vietnam, Indonesia, the USA, Morocco, Angola, France, Sweden, and finally as Her Britannic Majesty’s Consul-General in Geneva, Switzerland, from where he retired in 1983. In 1982 Robert was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire).
In retirement Robert was able to actively resume his support for Tibet and its people. He was a founder member of the Tibet Society in 1959 and remains a Vice President to this day. Robert has written extensively and lectured on all aspects of Tibetan and Chinese affairs in the UK, the rest of Europe, Australia, and the United States. In 1992, he undertook a country wide lecture tour in India, at the request of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Lectures took place in a number of locations, including the Indian Army College, Civil Service College and in the Lokh Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian Parliament. The tour was brought to an abrupt end when Robert and his wife Monica were detained under house arrest in Dharamsala by the Indian authorities. The lectures coincided with the Chinese Premier Li Peng’s official visit to India. Robert had to return home early to the UK. In 1996, Robert was able to orchestrate the first meeting between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a member of the British Royal family. His Holiness met Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, with Robert, on 17th July, at Clarence House.
Robert married Monica Tebbett, a childhood friend, in 1956. They were married for 55 years and had two sons, Martin and Giles. Robert also has three grandchildren, Emma, Candice and Nicholas. His interests include travel, hiking and skiing, having only stopped skiing at the age of 86!
Mr Thubten Samdup
Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Office of Tibet, London
Tel: +44 (0)20 7722 5378