53 / Sir Edmund Hillary

(1919–2008)

Edmund Hillary was born in Auckland and as a young man worked as a beekeeper in Tuakau, near Pukekohe. A keen amateur mountaineer, he joined the British Everest Expedition in 1953 and, with Sherpa Tenzing from Nepal, was the first conqueror of the world’s highest peak. At age 33 he was, quite literally, on top of the world. His nonchalant comment that they had ‘knocked the bastard off’ became a byword of New Zealand understatement. This pinnacle in his career, in every sense of the word, was achieved on the eve of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and Hillary was subsequently knighted. In 1958 he made the first overland trip to the South Pole with vehicles, and he frequently returned to the Himalayan region to promote the building of hospitals and schools for the Sherpa people. From 1985 to 1989 he was New Zealand High Commissioner in New Delhi, India. In a 2007 Listener readers’ poll, Sir Ed was voted the most admired New Zealander.


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