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The world lost one of its finest citizens on January 10, 2008,
when Sir Edmund Hillary died at the age of 88. Sir Ed turned Lionel Terray's
statement, that climbing was a useless activity, on its head, because as humans
we can find significant meaning in any activity if we look deep enough. Ed was a
normal climber, just a little stronger and better acclimated than most in 1953,
when by chance and tenacity he and Tenzing became the first people to stand at
the highest place on earth.
The symbolism of that achievement was instantly apparent to people all over the world, as proof that humans can overcome any obstacle, even those that the experts say are unassailable, and become as infinite as man may undergo. Hillary at first felt that the adulation and awards heaped upon him were misplaced, and that he was a simple man who was just in the right place at the right time.
But the act of being called a special person had an amazing effect on him, as he became what people thought of him, and even more than what they thought, because he was real, he did his work on his own terms, with utter honesty and lack of guile. He tried to devote his life to one thing, helping the people of Nepal who had given so much to the visiting climbers. And by doing that, he had the effect of causing all of us to realize that he was a selfless man who used his fame only for doing good works, and not his own enrichment. He became a symbol of the good that one person can do for fellow man, and perhaps gave us a glimpse of what the meaning of life itself is.
I had the honor of knowing him, as we met with him every few years when he would autograph books for us. To avoid the time constraints of meeting with him in the middle of his busy travel schedule in hotels in big American cities, in 2001 we started visiting him in New Zealand where we could work leisurely. We made sizeable donations to his foundation, the Sir Edmund Hillary Himalayan Trust, and over the years we are proud that it amounted to many tens of thousands of dollars.
The last time we met was August 2007, and we could tell his health was failing, but he was still in good spirits and invited us to visit even though he was getting weaker. On Wednesday January 9, 2008 his wife June and I exchanged e-mails, as I inquired about his health, and she told me he was in hospital, but was feeling better and was coming home in a day or two. Sadly, that was not to be as he died in his sleep that night.
Over the years, my friends and I took many photos of Ed, usually as he was autographing books. Below are some photos that we took over the last 20 years.
Edmund Hillary 1919-2008
Ed Hillary on his deck in August 2007, holding
the Simond Ice Axe he used on Mount Everest in 1953. It was the first time he
had let me touch it, and I was so covetous I think he was actually worried that
I might run off with it! Look at his hands.--Michael Chessler.
Copyright© 2008 by Michael Chessler. All Rights Reserved. Used here with the special permission of Michael Chessler. --Robert Speik
WARNING - *DISCLAIMER!*
Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can, only in part, be mitigated
Read more . . .
Books by Sir Edmund Hillary
High adventure . 1955
East of Everest . 1956
No latitude for error . 1961
High in the thin cold air . 1963
Schoolhouse in the clouds . 1965
Nothing venture, nothing win . 1975
From the ocean to the sky . 1979
Two generations . 1984
The view from the summit . 1999