Edmund Percival Hillary was born on July 20, 1919, in Tuakau, near Auckland, the son of Percival Augustus Hillary and Gertrude Clark Hillary. His father, originally a journalist, was a commercial beekeeper, and Edmund and a younger brother, Rexford, worked on the family farm.
NEAR SHORE RADIO ON EDMUND HILLARY (2.MIN / 58.SEC)….
Edmund loved climbing, and at the age of 16 spent a weekend on Mount Ruapehu, a 9,175-foot dormant volcano in New Zealand. Each year after that he climbed New Zealand’s Southern Alps. He attended public schools in Auckland and Auckland University, and served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a navigator during World War II.
At 6:30 A.M. on May 29, 1953, cheered by clearing skies, they began the final attack. Carrying enough oxygen for seven hours and counting on picking up two partly filled tanks left by Dr. Evans and Mr. Bourdillon, they moved out. Roped together, cutting toe-holds with their ice axes, first one man leading and then the other, they inched up a steep, knife-edged ridge southeast of the summit.
There was a modest celebration. “We shook hands and then, casting Anglo-Saxon formalities aside, we thumped each other on the back until forced to stop from lack of breath,” Sir Edmund remembered. They took photographs of one another holding flags, and of the surrounding ridges and the wide views.
Hillary founded the Himalayan Trust in 1960. The foundation, which he ran until his death in 2008, helps to build hospitals and schools in the remotest parts of Nepal. Writing his autobiography many years later, Hillary said that he hoped his life would show…..“a constant effort to illustrate how a very mediocre person with very mediocre talents which I have can create quite a lot if they really drive themselves.”
Besides his 1953 knighthood, Sir Edmund was named a Knight of the Order of the Garter by Queen Elizabeth II in 1995, and received many other awards, including the Star of Nepal and the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society. Although featured in books, magazines and newspapers, on postage stamps and television, and seen and heard by millions, he remained a modest man, friends said.