City Connect celebrates the 91st anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s birth. New Zealand’s best known explorer has been truly inspirational to others since his record breaking achievements of being the first to climb Mount Everest and the first to drive overland to the South Pole.
Sir Edmund Percival Hillary, KG, ONZ, KBE (20 July 1919 – 11 January 2008), was a New Zealand mountaineer, explorer and philanthropist. On 29 May 1953 at the age of 33, he and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers known to have reached the summit of Mount Everest. They were part of the ninth British expedition to Everest, led by John Hunt. Hillary was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
Hillary became interested in mountaineering while in secondary school, making his first major climb in 1939, reaching the summit of Mount Ollivier. He served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a navigator during World War II. Before the successful expedition in 1953 to Everest, he had been part of a reconnaissance expedition to the mountain in 1951 and an unsuccessful attempt to climb Cho Oyu in 1952. As part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition he reached the South Pole overland in 1958. He would later also travel to the North Pole.
Following his ascent of Everest he devoted much of his life to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal through the Himalayan Trust, which he founded. Through his efforts many schools and hospitals were built in this remote region of the Himalayas. He was the Honorary President of the American Himalayan Foundation, a United States non-profit body that helps improve the ecology and living conditions in the Himalayas. He was also the Honorary President of Mountain Wilderness, an international NGO dedicated to the worldwide protection of mountains .
Hillary was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) on 6 June 1953; member of the Order of New Zealand (ONZ) in 1987; and Knight of the Order of the Garter (KG) on 22 April 1995. The Government of India conferred on him its second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, posthumously, in 2008. He was also awarded the Polar Medal for his part in the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, and the Order of the Gurkha Right Hand, 1st Class (Suprasidha-Prabala-Gorkha-Dakshina-Bahu) of the Kingdom of Nepal in 1953.
His favoured New Zealand charity was the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre of New Zealand of which he was Patron for 35 years. Hillary was particularly keen on the work this organisation did in introducing young New Zealanders to the outdoors in a very similar way to his first experience of a school trip to Mt Ruapehu at the age of 16.
In 1992 Hillary appeared on the updated New Zealand $5 note, thus making him the only New Zealander to appear on a banknote during his or her lifetime, in defiance of the established convention for banknotes of using only depictions of deceased individuals, and current heads of state.
On 11 January 2008, at the age of 88, Hillary died of heart failure at the Auckland City Hospital. Hillary’s death was announced by New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark who stated that his passing was a “profound loss to New Zealand”. His death was recognised by the lowering of flags to half-mast on all Government and public buildings and at Scott Base in Antarctica. Actor and adventurer Brian Blessed, who attempted to climb Everest three times, described Sir Edmund as a “kind of titan”.
On 21 January 2008, Hillary’s casket was taken into Holy Trinity Cathedral to lie in state. A state funeral was held for Hillary the following day after which his body was cremated. On 29 February 2008, in a private ceremony, most of Hillary’s ashes were scattered in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf as he had desired. The remainder went to a Nepalese monastery near Everest.
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