The unassuming New Zealand beekeeper who conquered Mount Everest to win renown as one of the 20th century's greatest adventurers died Friday. Sir Edmund Hillary was 88.
The lanky New Zealander devoted much of his life to aiding the mountain people of Nepal and took his fame in stride, preferring to be called Ed and considering himself an "ordinary person with ordinary qualities."
Hillary died at Auckland City Hospital at 9 a.m. local time on Friday, January 11, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark's office said.
Though ailing in his later years, he remained active. No cause of death was immediately given.
Hillary's life was marked by grand achievements, high adventure, discovery, and excitement. Yet he was humble to the point that he did not admit to being the first man atop Everest until long after the 1986 death of his climbing companion Tenzing Norgay.
The two men had become the first known humans to summit the world's tallest mountain on May 29, 1953 (time line of Everest milestones).
Returning to base camp, Hillary had irreverently remarked, "We knocked the bastard off."
As part of a British climbing expedition, the accomplishment even added luster to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II four days later, and she knighted Hillary as one of her first acts.
But Hillary was more proud of his decades-long campaign to set up schools and health clinics in Nepal, Tenzing's homeland.
First to the Top
Hillary wrote of the pair's final steps to the top of the world: "Another few weary steps and there was nothing above us but the sky. There was no false cornice, no final pinnacle. We were standing together on the summit. There was enough space for about six people. We had conquered Everest.