Sir Edmund Hillary dies at age 88

The New Zealand native who first climbed Mount Everest will have a state funeral.

hillary 88 (photo credit: )
hillary 88
(photo credit: )
Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to stand atop the world's highest mountain, was remembered as a deeply driven but unassuming man who strived to help Nepal's people in the decades after his ascent of Mount Everest. Hillary, who died Friday of a heart attack at 88, will have a state funeral in New Zealand, where he began the mountaineering career that took him and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay to the tallest point on earth, a spokesman for his family said. He is survived by his children Peter and Sarah and wife June, who her family was comforted by the messages of support from around the world. She said Hillary had been hospitalized on Monday and died peacefully. "He remained in good spirits until the end," she said. Hillary's life was marked by grand achievements, high adventure, discovery, excitement - but he was especially proud of his decades-long campaign to set up schools and health clinics in Nepal, the homeland of Tenzing, the mountain guide with whom he stood arm in arm on the 8,849.9-meters (29,035-foot) summit of Everest on May 29, 1953. He 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. "Awe, wonder, humility, pride, exaltation - these surely ought to be the confused emotions of the first men to stand on the highest peak on Earth, after so many others had failed," Hillary noted. Hillary consistently refused to say whether it was he or Tenzing who was the first to step atop Everest, saying the two had climbed as a team to the top. Not until after Tenzing's death in 1986 did Hillary finally break his long public silence about who was first. "We drew closer together as Tenzing brought in the slack on the rope. I continued cutting a line of steps upwards. Next moment I had moved onto a flattish exposed area of snow with nothing but space in every direction," Hillary wrote, in his 1999 book "View from the Summit." "Tenzing quickly joined me and we looked round in wonder. To our immense satisfaction we realized we had reached the top of the world." Hillary raised funds for higher education for Sherpa families, and helped set up reforestation programs in the impoverished country. Like many mountaineers before him, Hillary had no special insight into that quintessential question: Why climb? "I can't give you any fresh answers to why a man climbs mountains. The majority still go just to climb them."