When the world-renowned nephrologist Dr Claus Brun died last year, he left a patang and a dozum for Bhutan.
According to his wife, Xenia Brun, her late husband bought the Bhutanese sword and the knife in Copenhagen from a person who had found it in London.
Few weeks after his death, Mrs Brun sent the sword back to Bhutan. The sword came with a letter addressed to our Royal Grandmother Ashi Kesang Choeden Wangchuck. In the letter dated November 13, 2014, she writes, “We always wanted it [sword] to come home to you in Bhutan.”
When Dr Brun passed away he was 100 years old. In the letter to Her Majesty, Mrs Brun writes, “Just a small note to tell you that Claus passed away September 30, 2014. The fact the he met you in London via his cousin Henrietta, and that we both came to Bhutan meant so much to him (and also to me, of course).”
The nephrologist was the first Dane to visit and help Bhutan. His relation with Bhutan came in a roundabout way.
Dr Brun’s cousin Henrietta Goelet i studied with our Royal Grandmother ii in the House of Citizenship in Kensington in London. Started by two friends of Lady Mountbatten, Miss Dorothy Neville Rolfe and Miss Margaret Godley, the school was a, “debutante school where girls are also fitted to take up social work iii.”
In 1968, Dr Brun’s cousin received a letter from Ashi Kesang asking if she could recommend a kidney specialist to come to Bhutan.
The cousin [Henrietta] immediately called on Dr Brun who declared his willingness to travel to Bhutaniv. At that time, the doctor was in London attending the CIBA conference of nephrology when he received the request to go to Bhutan v.
In 1968, the doctor and his wife Xenia Brun, a bio-analyst travelled to Bhutan. Dr Bjorn Melgard who served as the resident representative (1991-1994) of the Liaison Office of Denmark in Thimphu met the couple in Kolkatta.
“I was a medical student travelling to Orissa to be an intern for one year in a small Danish-run hospital. It was a long trip then, with SAS stopping in several big cities. In Kolkata only four people disembarked: Xenia and Claus Brun – and my friend/colleague and myself. Dr Melgard said it was a strange coincidence.”
In 1968, travelling to Bhutan was laborious. Although the first motor roads were already built but it still took a long time to get to places.
The Brun’s undertook a ten-week journey across Bhutan. “They travelled as royal guests, distributing medicines and treating patients, while also assessing the overall health situation in the country vi.”
This journey was the start of the long friendship that eventually grew into the Bhutan Denmark relationship.
In 1970, the doctor and his wife visited again. In Bhutan, the couple travelled widely across the country. Their first trip to eastern Bhutan was with Dr Godfried Riedel.
The Brun’s made great efforts to mobilise supplies, drugs and equipment to help Bhutan. When they visited Bhutan, they brought these equipment to help the hospitals in the country.
In 1979, Ashi Dechen Wangmo Wangchuck who was His Majesty’s representative in the Ministry of Development invited Dr Brun as her guest. “She requested Dr Brun to explore whether Denmark would be willing to provide medical assistance to Bhutan and the modalities of such assistancevii.”
After his exploratory visit, Dr Brun wrote several letters persuading his government to help Bhutan. The letters were initially received with mixed response. Eventually the, “Bhutanese Charge d’ Affaires managed to invite the Danish Ambassador to India, Per Frellesvig to visit Bhutan in 1979 viii.”
Soon after, the Bhutanese government received assistance through multilateral agencies of FAO and UNICEF for the seeds and water and sanitation project.
Dr Brun was born on 26 April 1914 in Copenhagen. His father was Axel Brun (1870-1958) who was a senior doctor like himself. His mother was Margrethe Krog (1884-1980) and was from a prominent family ix.
In 1940, he graduated from the University of Copenhagen. For almost his entire professional life, he worked at the Copenhagen Municipal Hospital. In 1984, after 44 years of service he retired.
Dr Brun was a pioneer in nephrology, who, in the late 40s, introduced the technique of performing a percutaneous kidney biopsy. The nephrologists credit him for his outstanding contributions to the research of kidney diseases.
He created the basis for our understanding of renal histopathology and its correlation with functional and clinical data. He eagerly participated in the international exchange of ideas during these early days and became the President of the International Society of Nephrology (ISN) from 1963 to 1966.
He specialised in clinical chemistry and nephrology. Together with a colleague he was one the first kidney specialists to introduce dialysis in the treatment of kidney failure.
The Danish nephrologist was an avid photographer. He has left behind a large collection of photos, especially portraits of Bhutanese from all walks of life and from all corners of the country.
With Dr Claus Brun’s death, “the Danish, European and international nephrology have lost one of their great founding personalitiesx.”
With his death, Bhutan too lost a dear friend and the founding father of the Bhutan Denmark relationship. The doctor was the first Dane to travel to Bhutan.
Although the bilateral relationship started hesitatingly in 1978, by end of 2014, Denmark became the second largest bilateral provider of assistance after India. From 1989 to 2104, the Danish government provided about “DKK 1.7 billion making it the highest Danida assistance per capita to any of its partner countriesxi.”
In a span of 20 years (1968-1988) the doctor and his wife visited Bhutan eight times. Their friend, Her Majesty Ashi Kesang looked after them each time and made every effort to ensure that their visit was a memorable and meaningful one.
Until the end, Dr Brun maintained his relationship with our Royal Grandmother. As a mark of respect and his love for Bhutan Mrs Brun sent the Bhutanese patang and dozum back to Bhutan.
i. Vinding, Michael (2015), Email
ii. Melgard, Dr. Bjorn (2015) via email.
iii. Rumbold, H.A.F, (1948), Letter to Sir Angus Gillian, British Council, British Library
v. Nielsen, Henrik A & Acharya, Gopilal,(2014) Bhutan-Denmark Developing a partnership through 35 Years.
ix. Vinding, Michael (2015), Email
x. Oxford University Press
xi. Nielsen, Henrik A & Acharya, Gopilal,(2014) Bhutan-Denmark Developing a partnership through 35 Years.