Friday, January 11, 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary Died Today

State funeral for Sir Ed
By KIM RUSCOE - Fairfax Media | Friday, 11 January 2008

JOHN SELKIRK/Dominion Post
NEW ZEALAND'S GREATEST HERO: Sir Edmund Hillary, who has died at the age of 88, seen in 2005 preparing for an Antarctica trip.

The late Sir Edmund Hillary's family has accepted the Government's offer of a state funeral.

Hillary, who was born in Auckland on July 20, 1919, died of a heart attack aged 88 at Auckland hospital at 9am today.

He was in good spirits until he died this morning, Lady June Hillary said in a message to the nation.

"Sir Ed died peacefully this morning at 9am, his heart gave out," Lady Hillary said in a message read by a family spokesman.

"He was 88.

"He had been in good form and was looking forward to coming home and had remained in good spirits till the end.

"The family are honoured to accept the Government's offer of a state funeral, recognising the impact he had on all New Zealanders."

The family spokesman, Mark Sainsbury, said the family was comforted by messages of support from around the country and around the world.

"His good friends the Sherpa people have called June and are organising their own memorial service in Nepal. The date for the funeral has yet to be set and will probably be done over the weekend as many relatives are overseas."

Among the first to visit the family home was cartoonist Tom Scott, who was a friend of Ed's.

"We will never see the likes of Sir Edmund Hillary again. He was a great human," Scott said.

Scott said he'd been working with Sir Edmund on a documentary about his work in Nepal and footage would be shown on the night of the funeral, which will be broadcast on TVNZ.

The New Zealand flag will be flown at half-mast on all Government and public buildings from today until midnight Saturday to mark Sir Ed's death. Flags will also be flown at half-mast on the day of his funeral, the date of which is to be confirmed.

Announcing Sir Ed's death this morning, Prime Minister Helen Clark said his passing was a profound loss to New Zealand.

"My thoughts are with Lady Hillary, Sir Edmund's children, wider family, and close friends at this sad time," Miss Clark said.

Miss Clark said Sir Ed always described himself as an average New Zealander.

"In reality, he was a colossus. He was an heroic figure who not only knocked off Everest but lived a life of determination, humility, and generosity."

Sir Ed's 1953 ascent of Mt Everest brought him world-wide fame and Miss Clark said the legendary mountaineer was the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived.

"But most of all he was a quintessential Kiwi. He was ours - from his craggy appearance and laconic style to his directness and honesty. All New Zealanders will deeply mourn his passing."

Miss Clark said Sir Ed had not basked idly in celebrity, drawing on his international prestige to highlight issues and values which he held dear.

She paid tribute to Sir Ed's humanitarian work with the Sherpa people of the Himalayas.

He established the Himalayan Trust in the early 1960s and worked tirelessly until his death to raise funds and build schools and hospitals in the mountains.

"The legacy of Sir Edmund Hillary will live on. His exploits continue to inspire new generations of New Zealanders, as they have for more than half a century already," Miss Clark said.

New Zealand's cricket team will wear black arm bands and observe a minute's silence along with the crowd before play starts on day one of the second test against Bangladesh at the Basin Reserve in Wellington tomorrow.

- with NZPA

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