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PM Speech: In Honour of Sir Edmund Hillary

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister

Official Luncheon in Honour of Sir Edmund Hillary


Banquet Hall Parliament Monday 31 March 2003

Sir Edmund and Lady Hillary – welcome to Parliament, and to this official luncheon in your honour in this fiftieth anniversary year of the first ascent of Mt Everest. I am delighted that you could both be here with us today.

I also welcome all those who have joined us for this event today, including members of Sir Edmund’s and Lady Hillary’s families, their close friends, and representatives of the mountaineering community.

Sir Edmond’s success in conquering Mt Everest, half a century ago, stands as one of the outstanding human triumphs of the twentieth century. That is why this fiftieth anniversary is being celebrated around the world this year.

Ed Hillary’s achievement still shines today, as Everest continues to daunt modern climbers with far superior clothing and technology to that available to Ed and Sherpa Tensing all those years ago.

Ed Hillary’s conquest of Everest in 1953 made him then and ever since the best known New Zealander in the world. Prime Ministers I fear are destined for the dust bins of history. Ed takes his place in the annals of history.

This man who described himself as a humble beekeeper caught the world’s imagination through that epic climb. He also became much loved, admired, and respected in our country. He was chosen by Prime Minister David Lange to be New Zealand’s High Commissioner in New Delhi. Yet after the half century of fame and all the accolades, Ed Hillary still remains the quintessential New Zealander, with qualities of humility and an attitude to service which are a model for us all.

Ed Hillary’s love of the mountains was born in our country’s rugged alpine terrain. It was here that he developed the skills and techniques which took him to the top of the world’s highest mountain. Realising his dream required meticulous planning and training, and the opportunity afforded by the Commonwealth expedition to get to the top.

The successful ascent of 29 May 1953 can teach us all a lot about the importance of identifying and following a dream and of working with single-minded commitment towards its achievement.

What Sir Edmund has done since 1953 has demonstrated that the fulfilment of one dream can be the platform for the achievement of new and different goals. The climb not only established Sir Edmund as an explorer and mountaineer of formidable skills, but also it produced friendships and concerns that would herald the beginning of many years of service to others.

For, after conquering Everest, Sir Edmund did not turn his back on Nepal. Rather he has stayed engaged with and committed to its people for the past half century, raising funds for and inspiring the work of the Himalaya Trust which he founded to bring new hope and services to the country’s Sherpas.

His practical work as a humanitarian and as an environmentalist has made a very significant difference to the lives of the Nepalese.

I know that the role he has played in establishing schools and medical facilities in Nepal has been genuinely satisfying to him and to those who, like Lady Hillary, have assisted him in his work. Despite the fact that his own life has not been without great sadness, he has done an enormous amount to improve the happiness and wellbeing of so many of his fellow human beings.

In honouring Sir Edmund today, we are honouring someone who represents both inspiration and decency.

Ed Hillary is a man of relatively few words, but among them have been some especially pithy sayings.

On his return from the summit of Everest, he greeted a fellow New Zealander on the expedition with the phrase: “We’ve knocked the bastard off!”

My favourite Ed Hillary quote is one which shows both his pride in achievement and his humility. He said: “In some ways I believe I epitomise the average New Zealander. I have modest abilities, I combine these with a good deal of determination, and I rather like to succeed.”

What Ed represents is vision, courage, perseverance, and integrity, and that goes a long way to explaining why he has inspired our people for half a century.

We join here today to honour Ed for that triumph fifty years ago, for his subsequent adventures, and for his work over many decades to assist and support the people of Nepal.

Ladies and gentlemen please join me in raising your glasses in a toast to Sir Edmund Hillary.

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