Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Death of Sir Edmund Hillary stirs memories

Express Staff Writer

Lady June Hillary and Sir Edmund Hillary, left, welcome Sun Valley residents Jeanne and Bill Cassell to their home in New Zealand. Photo by

For climbers and adventurers everywhere, the news last week of the death of Sir Edmund Hillary was monumental. He died of heart failure at age 88 on Friday, Jan. 11.

After becoming the first person to climb Mount Everest in Nepal, Hillary became a star in climbing circles and gained fame across the globe. He was born in 1919 in Auckland, New Zealand, and was raised on his father's bee-keeping farm. His vocation as a climber began in his youth. After learning on the mountains in New Zealand and in the Alps, he eventually climbed 11 peaks above 20,000 feet in the Himalayas.

On May 29, 1953, Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa, reached the summit of Everest, 29,028 feet above sea level, the highest spot on Earth.

Through the Himalayan Trust, which he founded in 1960, Hillary helped to build necessary infrastructure and airfields for the Nepalese. This dedication to the Sherpas lasted into his later years and was recognized in 2003, when, as part of the observance of the 50th anniversary of his and Tenzing's climb, he was made an honorary citizen of Nepal.

Sun Valley resident and U.S. Consul General of Nepal Bill Cassell said condolences from Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala were sent to Hillary's family and his wife, Lady June Hillary, Cassell's New Zealand counterpart in Nepal.

"He cared for the development and conservation of the Himalayan region," the statement reads. "His work here is praiseworthy and he will be remembered for years to come. Sir Edmund has become a good friend of Nepal and the Sherpa people. Through his Himalayan Trust he has built and supported many schools, hospitals and medical clinics."

Cassell and his wife, Jeanne, visited the Hillarys in New Zealand in 2004.

While their wives were in the garden, Hillary asked Cassell what was the last mountain he had climbed.

"Here was a question asked me by the first man to summit on Everest and all I could think of was (what I'd done) with my 6-year-old granddaughter—Dollar Mountain," Cassell said. "Ed said he was not familiar with that mountain. I let the subject drop there."

Cassell said Hillary was a humble man who was clearly beloved by the people in New Zealand.

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