Saturday, January 12, 2008

Farewell to Hillary

Not Clinton -- Sir Edmund

I have always marveled at this picture of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay drinking tea in front of the tent shortly after their historic first ascent of Mount Everest on May 29, 1953. The photo captures, for me, the consummate self-satisfaction they must have felt at that moment and which was expressed in Hillary's quip to the expedition leader when he met him on the way down from the summit -- "We knocked the bastard off."

Hillary of course went on to lead a supremely satisfying life of mountaineering, polar exploration (both poles), river running (the Ganges), conservation (cleaning up Everest), public service (as Ambassador to India) and philanthropy (financing construction of schools and hospitals in Nepal). He knew personal tragedy when his wife and teenage daughter died in a plane crash in Nepal en route to one of the hospitals he was building. He was more embarrassed than impressed by his knighthood and never called himself "Sir". He participated in a hilarious and fruitless search for the abominable snowman. He lived long, dying yesterday in New Zealand at age 88.

Sir Edmund Hillary was one of the great men of the last century. I cannot let his passing pass without paying tribute.

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