Ray Lilley, AP
WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Sir Edmund Hillary, the unassuming beekeeper who conquered Mount Everest to win renown as one of the 20th century's greatest adventurers, has died, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark announced Friday. He was 88.
The gangling 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 just an ordinary beekeeper.
"Sir Ed described himself as an average New Zealander with modest abilities. 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," Clark said in a statement.
"The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived," she said.
Hillary's life was marked by grand achievements, high adventure, discovery, excitement — and by his personal humility. Humble to the point that he only admitted being the first man atop Everest long after the death of climbing companion Tenzing Norgay.
He had pride in his feats. Returning to base camp as the man who took the first step onto the top of the world's highest peak, he declared: "We knocked the bastard off."