Saturday, January 19, 2008
Sir Edmund Hillary
On 11 January a singular and extraordinary man died. His name was Sir Edmund Hillary. He was the first man, with Tenzing Norgay, to conquer Everest. New Zealand, his home, went into mourning. He was their greatest man - equivalent in stature to the immortal All Blacks. This entry here is me signing his condolence book.
I'm not so much given to higher, faster, bigger. That Hillary conquered the roof of the world is no small feat but for mine it's only half of his greatness. What sets him apart is what he did after this herculean effort. The news of his achievement was world-wide event. Fame and fortune awaited him - the world was his oyster. A lesser man would have cashed in. Hilary could have swanned about the world and played on his celebrity and good looks - money, a jet-set crowd, the high life.
But he didn't. His love for the people of Nepal, big of heart but poor as dirt, drove to him to devote his life to improving theirs. He built schools, clinics and whatever he thought would provide the greatest benefit. When I say 'built' he didn't turn up with a cheque, have his photo taken and then head back to the hotel. He took his shirt off, picked up a hammer and piled in. The people of Nepal declared him a saint.
Meanwhile back in NZ he was simply Sir Ed. He didn't need the 'sir' bit, but people thought it was right. It was right. No one earned it more. Yet he didn't flaunt it. His name was in the phone book. His house was modest. He talked to regular people like they were regular people. He wasn't overly impressed with himself and didn't ask that others be either. He was the embodiment of level-headed selflessness.
His passing affected me more deeply than I expected. I offer my condolences to his family, friends and the people of New Zealand and Nepal who mourn him. Were that there were more like Sir Edmund Hillary. Vale.