The unassuming pioneer
At the end of the century, I wanted to do a story on
In my quest to find Sir Edmund in New Zealand I called a journalist there. Might he tell me where I could find someone who had Hillary's telephone number? Just a minute, he said. Oh, have you got it, I asked? No, he replied, it's just right here in the phone book. That's right. Anybody could ring up the greatest citizen of the country, the guy on the five-dollar bill, the hero who first stood on the top of the world.
That probably says as much about what Sir Edmund was like as anything does. Well, really, not Sir Edmund. When he found he had to change our appointment, he politely called my house. I was away, so he told my wife it was Ed Hillary calling. "Who?" she asked, struggling with his Kiwi accent. Finally, reluctantly, he acknowledged that he was indeed "Sir Edmund Hillary." He apologized that he had to change our date, but it seemed that
My wife said she was sure that I'd understand.
In a suburb of Auckland, Hillary lived on a high hill, with a vista of the harbor, but significantly, a large Himalayan tree he'd been given, rises higher still over the house on the hill. It's good maybe that you're reminded that no matter how high you go, except maybe on Everest, there is really something always higher.
These latter years, he lived with his second wife,
At first, when he came down from the summit in May 1953, many Nepalese didn't embrace Hillary, the outsider who had breached their peak. Hillary made sure to say that Norkay had reached the top a few steps before him. Norkay finally wrote the truth just before he died in 1986, and Hillary substantiated that. But he was quick to tell me: "Believe me, to us, to mountaineers, who's first is not important. We're a team."
Hillary had taken Norkay's picture on the summit, but didn't even bother to have Norkay take his. It never occurred to him. They were a team. In fact, he admitted that he'd felt a little guilty days before when he wasn't sure whether he really wanted his friends,
Two days later Hillary and his teammate made it, and, all things considered, I'd have to say that I think God picked the right guy to first stand so close to heaven on earth.