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Tibetan man died as he lived — on the road to peace

A Feb. 14 photo shows the damage to a vehicle that struck 
and killed Jigme Norbu as he was walking along a Florida highway after dark near Palm Coast.


A Feb. 14 photo shows the damage to a vehicle that struck and killed Jigme Norbu as he was walking along a Florida highway after dark near Palm Coast.

His last name meant "jewel," his first name meant "fear not," and Jigme Norbu, the Dalai Lama's nephew, over the last decade and a half pushed for world peace, human rights and a free Tibet by walking around America.

He was killed Monday evening on the side of a road in Northeast Florida.

In Palm Coast, Flagler County, on a poorly lit stretch of State Road A1A, he was hit from behind by an SUV driven by a 31-year-old man. Norbu was dead at the scene. The driver wasn't charged.

On Tuesday, family and friends of Norbu and supporters of his cause remembered the 45-year-old Bloomington, Ind., resident, husband and father of three, citing his big heart, his peaceful spirit and his commitment to the message of harmony.

"Living epically," one of his travel partners wrote in a blog, "comes at a price."

• • •

The Dalai Lama is the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. The current Dalai Lama is the 14th in a line of Buddhist leaders who teach ways to enlightenment.

Norbu's father was the Dalai Lama's brother.

The brothers fled Tibet in the 1950s, when China invaded their home territory south of China and north of the Himalayas, with the Dalai Lama going to India and Norbu's father coming to America.

Norbu's father was a curator of Tibetan artifacts at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He was a professor of Tibetan and religious studies at Indiana University. He co-founded the International Tibet Independence Movement and started "freedom walks" to draw attention to the Tibetan plight.

He died in September 2008. His ashes, according to Tibetan tradition, were distributed to his relatives. Tibetans believe the souls of the dead return to the living. They believe in reincarnation.

• • •

Norbu continued what his father had started.

In 2007, he walked from New York to Philadelphia; in 2008, he walked from Madison, Wis., to Chicago; in 2009, he walked from Indianapolis to New York.

That trip took him 40 days, 900 miles through Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Washington, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which he finished by emerging from the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan with badly blistered feet.

"There were times," he said then, "when I would be very lonely, I would be walking in the middle of the road, by myself, that's when I would think about my people.

"This," he said, "is a responsibility I have as a Tibetan and an individual."

Last summer, walking through Delaware, he told a local reporter how excited he was that exactly 273 cars had honked their approval for freedom for Tibet.

• • •

For this trip to Florida, the Valentine's Day "Walk for Tibet," he flew on Sunday from Indianapolis to Jacksonville. The 300-mile walk was scheduled to start in St. Augustine and end in West Palm Beach. His travel companions were Donna Kim-Brand, a North Florida author, and Wangchuk Dorjee, a former Tibetan Parliament member.

"Thank you," Norbu wrote on, "for your support on this very important global cause!"

Friends and supporters gathered Monday morning to send them off. They got a bit of a late start. Kim-Brand drove in a van, and Norbu and Dorjee walked all day until Dorjee, who is 67, had to stop.

Waiting for them at a Palm Coast cheese shop, where they were to stay the night in tents, were a can of stuffed grape leaves, three bottles of coconut juice and a handwritten note from the store's proprietors: "Tibet Group! Hi! Please make yourselves at home. It is an honor to have you here."

It was getting dark. Kim-Brand and Dorjee decided to drive ahead to look for a restaurant for dinner. Norbu insisted on walking two more miles.

He had on dark-colored clothing and walked southbound in the same direction as the traffic. The speed limit was 55. He carried with him a white sign.


The compact SUV ended up with a smashed windshield and a crumpled front. The driver, Keith O'Dell, has a record of speeding and careless driving, but that, it seems, wasn't the issue here. He had his young son in the car. O'Dell's father said he was "too traumatized" to talk.

There was a sidewalk on the other side of the road.

• • •

On Tuesday, on, Kim-Brand wrote that she and Dorjee "WILL CONTINUE."

Norbu had intended to set up a center for world peace in honor of his father and to spread the message of the Dalai Lama. Press interest in Norbu and his story and his death has been worldwide.

Some Tibetans, Kim-Brand said, already have expressed interest in carrying on in his place.

And she had a message for the rest of us.

"Be present to your own peace," she wrote, "be kind to one another, and use your freedom to make a difference with dignity."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report, which used information from ABC News, and the Associated Press. Michael Kruse can be reached at or (727) 893-8751.

Tibetan man died as he lived — on the road to peace 02/15/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 15, 2011 10:35pm]
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