People Who Kick Buts: Sir Edmund Hillary
It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
- Born on 20 July 1919, passed away on 11 January 2008.
- On 29 May 1953, Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers confirmed as having 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.
Prior to the 1953 Everest expedition, he had been part of the British reconnaissance expedition to the mountain in 1951, as well as 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. Subsequently, he also travelled to the North Pole.
- Following his ascent of Everest he devoted most 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 Nepal.
- Hillary was educated at Tuakau Primary School and then Auckland Grammar School.
He finished primary school two years early and at high school achieved average marks.
He was initially smaller than his peers there and very shy so he took refuge in his books and daydreams of a life filled with adventure. His daily train journey to and from high school was over two hours each way, during which he regularly used the time to read.
He gained confidence after he learned to box. At 16 his interest in climbing was sparked during a school trip to Mount Ruapehu. Though gangly at 6 ft 5 in (195 cm) and uncoordinated, he found that he was physically strong and had greater endurance than many of his tramping companions.
- Upon the outbreak of World War II Hillary applied to join the air force, but withdrew the application before it was considered because he was “harassed by [his] religious conscience”.
- Hillary married Louise Mary Rose on 3 September 1953, soon after the ascent of Everest.
A shy man, he relied on his future mother-in-law to propose on his behalf.
They had three children: Peter (*1954), Sarah (*1955) and Belinda (1959–1975).
In 1975 while en route to join Hillary in the village of Phaphlu, where he was helping to build a hospital, Louise and Belinda were killed in a plane crash near Kathmandu airport shortly after take-off.
Hillary married June Mulgrew, the widow of his close friend Peter Mulgrew, on 21 December 1989.
His son Peter Hillary has also become a climber, summiting Everest in 1990. In May 2002 Peter climbed Everest as part of a 50th anniversary celebration; Jamling Tenzing Norgay (son of Tenzing; Tenzing himself had died in 1986) was also part of the expedition.
Hillary had six grandchildren.
- On 11 January 2008, Hillary died of heart failure at the Auckland City Hospital at the age of 88.