January 13

Sir Edmund Hillary


…the heavens blaze forth the death of princes… 

"When beggars die there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes." 

(William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar II, ii, 30-31)  


On the passing of Sir Edmund Hillary, the  media across the world  fulsomely reported on the life and times of this  extraordinary man.  

Even reports about the United States presidential race gave way to news of his passing on the front page of the New York Times website,  Radio New Zealand reported. It said that tribute pages were set up on other news sites including the Sydney Morning Herald, Times of London and the Times of India. In its report, The Australian abandoned or suspended its usual practice of avoiding the use of titular honours.

…citizen of Nepal…and "father of Sherpas"…

A State Funeral has been offered to the family, and accepted. This is an exceptional honour; unlike Australia, where they are increasingly offered to persons of general celebrity, State Funerals are rare in New Zealand, as they remain in the United Kingdom.

From the conquest of Mount Everest and for the rest of his life, Sir Edmund had sought neither celebrity status nor wealth. He used the fame that inevitably flowed from his triumph not for himself, but for the deserving, particularly in Nepal. This resulted in the building of 26 schools, two hospitals and an airport and providing scholarships for Sherpa children.

Accordingly, Sir Edmund will be remembered with particular affection in Nepal, where Sherpa friends  have lit butter lamps and offered special Buddhist prayers in monasteries across the country. In 2003, on the 50th anniversary of the climbing of Mount Everest, the government of Nepal had conferred honorary Nepali citizenship on Sir Edmund in recognition of his many services to the people and the region. He was the first foreign national to receive such an honour..

Norbu Tenzing, the son of Tenzing Norgay who was with Sir Edmund on the famous climb, (pictured together) described the day of Sir Edmund’s passing as one of “great sadness”.

 Sir Edmund, he said, was “a father for Sherpas” all around the world.

….civis Britannicus sum …

Sir Edmund, who came from the time when the phrase “civis Britannicus sum” symbolised the union between all men and women across the vast Empire and Commonwealth on which the sun never set,  saw himself naturally as both  New Zealander and  British.

And so the British flag at the British High Commission in Wellington flew at half mast out of respect for Sir Edmund. The British High Commissioner, George Fergusson, said he was the quintessential hero to people in Britain, as well as New Zealand. To that could be added Australia, the Commonwealth, and to judge by the reaction to his passing, the world.

As the High Commissioner said, the moment Sir Edmund conquered Everest was dramatic for the Commonwealth, as the news came out the same day as the Coronation of The Queen. Subsequently, Sir Edmund was to be lead the second conquest of the South Pole and later, to be the only man who has stood on the summit of Everest and the site of both poles.

He was overwhelmed when, as a result of his triumph, he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire  in 1953, a singularly appropriate recognition. Subsequently, he was made a member of the Order of New Zealand.

…the greatest honour…

The greatest honour his Sovereign could grant him was to come in 1995. This was when he was made a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (KG), which is the very pinnacle of English chivalry. There are only twenty four companions, and the award is in The Queen’s personal gift, that is, it is made without formal advice being tendered by  government, British or New Zealand.

  He was also awarded the Polar Medal for his part in the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Various streets, schools and organisations around New Zealand and abroad are named after him, such as Hillary College in Otara, and Edmund Hillary Primary School in Papakura. 

In 1992 Sir Edmund’s face  appeared on the updated New Zealand $5 note, the  only New Zealander to appear on a banknote during his or her  own lifetime.

 Sir Edmund was a humble and loyal man. He has set an example of dedication, sacrifice, achievement and service that is a beacon not only for New Zealanders but for all people. 



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