Obituary: Thuten Kesang, unsung hero of Tibet

By Auckland Tibetan Association and Tibetans in New Zealand

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, 24 May 2021

On Sunday 23 May 2021, Thuten Kesang QSM, loving husband, father, and grandfather, and ardent advocate of the Free Tibet movement, passed away at the age of seventy-six.

Thuten Kesang speaks on the occasion of Tibetan Uprising Day in Auckland, New Zealand, on 10 March 2020

Born in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, in 1944, he was sent to India by his parents in the mid-1950s before the Chinese invasion of Tibet, and later graduated from Dr Graham’s Homes, a Christian boarding school in Kalimpong.

He moved to New Zealand in 1967 and for many years was the only Tibetan in New Zealand. That said, from day one he started disseminating information about Tibet by giving interviews to Auckland Star and New Zealand Broadcasting. He actively took part in Tibetan Children Relief Society of New Zealand from 1967 and became its Treasurer, a position he held until his passing. TCRS sponsors hundreds of Tibetan children in India across TCV Dharamshala, and Tibetan Homes Foundation, Mussoorie.

In 1986, he founded the Friends of Tibet, New Zealand, and served as the President and was the political voice of Tibet in New Zealand. He also actively took part in Auckland Multicultural Society Inc, representing Tibet at its annual expos. He served in various capacities including President across various terms. He was also a life member at Browns Bay Racquet club. The name of one of his tennis teams, ‘Team Tibet’, inspired the title of the 2017 feature-length documentary on his life. His memoir Tibet – The Home I Left Behind but Will Never Forget, with foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was also released the same year.

Prior to the inception of Office of Tibet, Canberra, Thuten was appointed internally as Honorary Secretary of the Liaison Office of Tibet New Zealand by Pema Gyalpo in Japan 1989, then representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the Asia-Pacific region. Through that he set up the Dalai Lama Visit Trust New Zealand and all of His Holiness’s visits were overseen by the Trust.

Kesang served as the head of Tibetan Community in New Zealand from 1967 till 2015, and later as head of Auckland Tibetan Association till 2019. He facilitated the Tibetan language and culture weekend classes for Tibetan children in Auckland in 2020. He attended numerous conferences on Tibet worldwide, lobbied for Tibet in the Parliament in Wellington, and gained multiple supporters. He was also the Secretary/Treasurer of Dr Graham’s Homes in New Zealand Committee. Words fail to describe his selfless dedication and contribution to the Tibetan cause.

He was conferred numerous awards for a life of service:

  1. Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award, presented by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
  2. Queen’s Service Medal, awarded by the Government of New Zealand.
  3. Auckland City for Peace Award, by The Peace Foundation and Auckland Council.
  4. Certificate of Achievement, at the New Zealander of the Year Awards 2019.
  5. Unsung Heroes of Tibet Award, by Auckland Tibetan Association 2020.
  6. Awards at his tennis club.

The Auckland Tibetan Association, with Whangarei, Christchurch, Dunedin Tibetan Association, and Tibetans in Nelson, Tauranga, Wellington, as well as Tibetan Buddhist Centres across the country, express great sadness and send our heartfelt condolences to his wife Gwendoline Kesang, daughters Tsering Kesang Pheasant, Elizabeth Kesang Gee and extended family. Thuten lived a life full of compassion and purpose. He was a proud and happy Tibetan-New Zealander, always ready to sing his favourite old Bollywood songs. We pray for his soul to rest in peace, and his consciousness to be reborn as a Tibetan under the realm of Avalokiteśvara.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: