Friday, 11 January 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary: 1919 -2008

At 9am today (Friday, 11 January) Sir Edmund Hillary (who is known here as Sir Ed) died in Auckland Hospital at the age of 88.

All television presenters are wearing black and TVOne is completely devoted to Sir Ed and his exploits. There is to be a State Funeral. I think it is the first State Funeral in the Country for a non-political figure or Governer General since that for The Unknown Soldier many years ago.

Sir Ed became famous in 1953 when, as part of the British Expedition on Everest, he and Norbert Tenzing were the first people to Climb Mount Everest.

My first recollection (I was 9 at the time) was Dad taking me to see the film entitled, I think, The Conquest of Everest. I have a copy of the film which was shown on television on the 50th Anniversary of the ascent.

A survey here in 1996 named him as the top choice of men and women of all ages and across all ethnic groups - far ahead of any All Black, any political or artistic figure - as the person who best embodied "the spirit and essence" of this small nation.

The papers and television in the UK will, doubtless, be full of the news too but some of the tributes from the Prime Minister (who is on her way back from Europe) and Acting Prime Minister are:

"Sir Ed described himself as an average New Zealander with modest abilities. In reality he was a colossus. He was an heroic figure who not only 'knocked off' Everest but lived a life of determination, humility and generosity.

"The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived. But most of all he was a quintessential Kiwi. He was ours - from his craggy appearance and laconic style to his directness and honesty. All New Zealanders will deeply mourn his passing.

"The legacy of Sir Edmund Hillary will live on. His exploits continue to inspire new generations of New Zealanders, as they have for more than half a century."

"What struck you when you met him was - he's a big man; a slow-talking Kiwi of an old fashioned variety. He was very modest and you felt radiating out of him - here is a man in a different league to most of us in terms of what he could do and what he was.

"We should grieve but we should also celebrate that life Sir Ed had and recognise that he was a truly great man and a truly great New Zealander."

What more can one say?

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