Friday, May 30, 2008

Nz's most famous beekeeper

Edmund Hillary was born in 1919 and grew up the middle of 3 children in a small town. His father was a beekeeper and Edmund did some beekeeping in his life too. When he reached the age of about 11 he had to go to school in Auckland. There he was put in the group of misfits in PE class as he was so small and scrawny. By the time he was 15, he stood over 6 feet and went on a ski outing with his school. He fell in love with snow and started on his way to mountaineering. He and his friend George Lowe found themselves on many an adventure together, none bigger than Everest. Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had already climbed Mt. Cook in 1948 and Hillary found himself on a British team trying to climb Everest in 1951. This expedition failed and they thought they would climb it in 1952. The Swiss, however, had the mountain booked that year, but Lowe and Hillary still went to the mountain to take a look at it from all sides. They went to base camp to find out that the Swiss had failed.

They were part of the 1953 expedition and Hillary chose Norgay as his partner. They were the 2nd summit team and only tried for the summit when the first team failed. Hillary reached the top on the same day that Queen Elizabeth II was enjoying her coronation. She knighted him on the spot and he found out on the radio that he now held the title of Sir. This had been a British expedition and when the very proper leader of the group asked Hillary if they had made it to the summit, instead of some proper response Hillary merely said "Well, we knocked the bastard off!".

Hillary would return to New Zealand and marry his Australian wife and have 3 kids. They would all return many times to Nepal. On one of these trips, the plane crashed and Hillary's wife and his youngest daughter were killed. He was devastated and spend many years trying to come to grips with his grief. He was to go to the Antarctic on a trip but a friend went instead. This plane also crashed, leaving Hillary and his friend's wife to find each other. June Hillary was his second wife and together they travelled the world and he became ambassador to India.

Hillary died this past January at the age of 89. We just missed meeting June Hillary who arrived at the Hermitage days after us to open the new Museum. There is a lifesize statue of a young Hillary with old-fashioned climbing equipment facing Mt. Cook.

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