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Newslook: Everest Hero's Humanity

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World news media eulogize the great mountaineer and a friend of Nepal-- Sir Edmund Hillary, 1953-2008. Nepal Monitor reviews some obits and newsreports [Nepali press update on Jan 13/08]

A sample of editorials (updated Jan 16/08)
* A lifetime of ceaseless achievement, New Zealand Herald, Jan 12/08
* Peak of human achievement, The Dominion Post, Jan 12/08
* Sir Edmund Hillary an inspiring world figure, Herald Sun, Jan 12/08
* How should we celebrate a legend?, Hawke's Bay Today, Jan 14/08
* Top of the world and top of Kiwis, HB Today, Jan 12/08


Sir Edmund Hillary, who with Tenzing Norgay, conquered Mt. Everest on May 29, 1953, is no more. He died Friday (January 11, 2008) at an Auckland hospital, in New Zealand at about 9 a.m. local time. Born July 20, 1919; he was 88. With the death of one of the world's greatest explorers of modern times, an era has ended.

The cause of Hillary's death is not clear. London's The Guardian writes that the New Zealand government gave no cause of his death last night, although it had been reported that he was ill, apparently suffering from pneumonia. It is understood he had not been well since last April after he suffered a fall while on a climb in Nepal. However, The Age from Australia, citing the Auckland District Health Board, says he died of a heart attack.

Hillary was made an honorary Nepali citizen in 2003. Tributes are pouring in from around the globe. The world's news media, in their obits and stories on the legendary explorer, reflect on his life and his attributes. When he conquered the top of the world, Hillary was 33, and Norgay was 39 years old.

Despite his fame, Hillary was an unassuming personality. The New York Times' Robert D. Mcfadden writes: Tough, rawboned, 6 feet 5 inches tall, with a long leathery and wrinkled face, Sir Edmund was an intelligent but unsophisticated man with tigerish confidence on a mountain but little taste for formal social doings. For many years after the Everest climb, he continued to list his occupation as beekeeper — his father’s pursuit — and he preferred to be known as Ed.

Lilley in Wellington from New Zealand writes in the The National Geographic: Hillary was humble to the point that he did not admit to being the first man atop Everest until long after the 1986 death of his climbing companion Tenzing Norgay.

Hillary not only wrestled with nature's adventure but also cared for nature, and he touched many lives The Sydney Herald calls him "colossus". A blog at the Herald describes Hillary as a "genuine hero" in this day and age of media hype. It continues: His exploits half a century ago helped open up the icy continent for scientific study crucial to the understanding of how this planet works. But there was more to him that polar treks and mountain climbing. His charitable work was also legendary. He was devoted to improving the lot of the people of Nepal who lived lives of poverty in the shadow of Everest. He raised money, helped build schools and villages, campaigned for education and healthcare. He is remembered both in his native New Zealand as well as Nepal as a national treasure.

Time magazine's Simon Robinson offers long details of Hillary's professional and public life. He writes Hillary's beginnings were more humble. He grew up in Tuakau, a small town 50 km south of Auckland. His father, Percival, was a local newspaper editor and he was a strict man. His mother, Gertrude, was a school teacher. He went to a regular grammar school. At 16, his love affair with mountains began.

Robinson writes that the first man to stand on top of the world didn't see himself as a hero. Others always will. He describes Hillary as a man with a sense of dry and quick humor. Hillary was "a conservationist before it was fashionable" and he remained critical of the environmental pressures created on Mt. Everest (see CNN story). The article further describes Hillary's charity works after the historic conquest: Beginning in 1962 he began working with the Nepalese Sherpas who had so often helped him. Raising funds through his Himalayan Trust, he helped install bridges and pipes, built nearly 30 schools, two hospitals, 12 medical clinics, two mountaineering clinics, restored monasteries and planted more than a million seedlings in and around the towns of the rugged and poor Solu-Khumbu region of Nepal. Much of the last years of his life were dedicated to the work of the Trust, which opened offices in New Zealand, the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Germany. Even into his 70s Hillary spent an average of five months away from New Zealand every year raising money through lectures and visiting the projects in Nepal.

Washington Post's Adam Bernstein writes, Hillary "conquered Everest, advocated for planet." He describes him as "notoriously aggressive and competitive adventurer."

Writing an obituary on Hillary and drawing on his personal reminiscences of the man, Jim Perrin of the UK-based the Guardian newspaper describes the explorer as a "Mountaineer who dedicated life after his ascent of Everest to the people of Nepal." He "adds: His view of the effect of this work on the Sherpa community was profoundly ambivalent: "Those of us who loved the Sherpas often felt they would live happier and more adequate lives if they were left untouched by the outside world. But there was unfortunately no chance of this. Already the Khumbu has received many of the 'blessings' of civilisation - forests are being denuded; rubbish is piled around campsites and the children are learning to beg. The Sherpas have a hospital and half-a-dozen schools - but is it sufficient recompense? At times I am racked by guilt."

Perrin further writes: Ed Hillary will certainly not be remembered as having been among the front rank of technical innovators in the sport of mountaineering. His was more nearly a case of the right man being in the right place at the right time. But the vigour and boldness with which he seized that opportunity, and the altruistic use to which he put his subsequent celebrity are worthy of the highest respect. He could be brusque, tendentious and dismissive, but he was also kindly, direct, and both decent and incorruptible to a degree seldom found among those of great fame.

An obituary in BBC News describes his journey to struggle and fame, ending: Although he will always be remembered for reaching the world's highest plateau, for the explorer himself, his greatest satisfaction came with the Nepalese people he befriended.

The Los Angeles Times' Dennis McLellan portrays him as an active individual in his life. He writes: Over the years, Hillary served as a camping equipment advisor for Sears Roebuck, lectured widely and wrote a number of books, including "High Adventure," "The Crossing of Antarctica," "No Latitude for Error," "From the Ocean to the Sky," "Nothing Venture, Nothing Win" and "View from the Summit." He writes that Hillary also spent much of his time raising funds for the Himalayan Trust. He founded the nonprofit organization in 1961 as a way to give back to the Sherpas, one of the many ethnic groups native to Nepal, who served as guides for Western expeditions in the Himalayas.

The UK's Times concurs: Lesser men would have considered retirement. But, despite the heroism of his life story, Sir Edmund took fame in his stride and devoted his life to helping the mountain people of Nepal, preferring to be known as "Ed" and always reluctant to admit he had been the first atop Everest long after Norgay died in 1986.

Meanwhile, In Nepal: [Updated on Jan 13, 2008]
Nepali news media echo the international sentiments on Hillary. [Initially, the Nepali newspapers missed the news of Hillary's death, which occurred late in the night in Nepal. Online sources picked up some reports by internal correspondents based in Kathmandu. Gopal Sharma of Reuters reports that Nepali Sherpas are praying for Hillary's reincarnation. He wrote: Sherpa friends of Sir Edmund Hillary lit butter lamps and offered special Buddhist prayers in monasteries for the mountaineer, calling him a great philanthropist and friend.] They reflect on Hillary's philantrophic works in Nepal.

The Kathmandu Post's Bikash Sangraula described him as a philanthropist and a conservationist. The banner headline obituary said: In Sir Edmund's death the world has lost the first man to set foot atop the world's tallest peak along with Tenzing Norgay in 1953, and Nepal has lost someone who loved this country and its people like few foreigners ever have. Hillary was the force behind transforming the whole Khumbu region and the lives of thousands of Sherpa families living there.

Nepali Times' Kunda Dixit, uploaded a hurriedly written obit for the online version of his paper (published each Friday): If there was one real conquest that Hillary made in his life, it was after he became a worldwide celebrity: the life's work he put into the Khumbu for the health, education and development of Sherpa country. He was involved with the Himalayan Trust right up to his death on Friday in New Zealand at the age of 88. It was Hillary who got the airfield built in Lukla, which with its famous inclined runway has become the gateway to the Khumbu for tourists. He further writes writes: That so many Sherpas today who are top in their fields all graduated from high schools that Hillary set up in Khumjung, Namche, Khunde or Lukla is a tribute to his lifetime achievement.

The Himalayan Times reported condolences by local and foreign leaders, icluding Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala.

Here is the story by the government-operated the Rising Nepal. And here is the TRN editorial.

* Hillay and Tenzing video (from BBC)
* TIME 100: Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay
* Timeline of Mt. Everest "milestones (from National Geographic)
* CNN IReport submission link
* YouTube videos on Hillary
* The Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation
* The Himalayan Trust
* Outside Magazine


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