A truly great man died today in New Zealand. Sir Edmund (Ed) Hillary was a national icon for his people; probably the most prominent Kiwi on the planet, he was revered and respected by his country in a way that most non-Kiwis would never understand. Yes, he was one of the first two people to stand on top of the world's highest mountain in 1953 (and I like the way that he and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay never discussed who it was who actually put the first foot on the summit of Everest) but he did so much afterwards as well. He drove a bloody tractor to the South Pole for God's sake! How Kiwi is that!
When I was in New Zealand I did many Kiwi Hillary Walks; tracks that he had selected, sponsored and cleared for walkers and trampers. In a very small way I felt I was following in his footsteps, literally if not in achievement. His face and outstanding achievements are recognised on the New Zealand five-dollar note, a huge accolade from his adoring homeland. He also brought a phrase into Kiwi English that is used to this day, even by the Prime minister, no less. On meeting up with members of his expedition after descending Everest, he turned to his friend, George Lowe, and said, 'Well George, we finally knocked the bastard off.'
I like down-to-earth people like Ed Hillary. He did a great deal, with the foundations and trusts he set up, for the people of Nepal and New Zealand and said that he would rather be remembered for those things than simply for having climbed the highest mountain on the planet. But the conquering of Everest gave him the prominence to do all the other things. He'll be missed by his country, his people and an admiring world. A truly great man.