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If you like Edmund Hillary's story, you might also like:
Robert Ballard,
Roger Bannister,
Sylvia Earle,
Jane Goodall,
Richard Leakey,
Greg Mortenson,
Alan Shepard and
Chuck Yeager

Edmund Hillary's recommended reading: The Warlord of Mars

Related Links:
New Zealand Edge
Hillary Foundation
Himalayan Trust

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Sir Edmund Hillary
Sir Edmund Hillary
Profile of Sir Edmund Hillary Biography of Sir Edmund Hillary Interview with Sir Edmund Hillary Sir Edmund Hillary Photo Gallery

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview (page: 5 / 6)

Conqueror of Mt. Everest

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  Sir Edmund Hillary

You seem to have worked out some kind of balance, so that at different times in your life there's been more personal life, and sometimes more commitment to climbing and doing other things. How did you manage to not go overboard in one direction or another and not give up something that you really cared about?

Sir Edmund Hillary: In the first 33 years of my life which is up until I climbed Everest, I was a very restless and slightly unhappy sort of person. I really didn't have a great deal of social life, but I'd become very interested in adventurous activities. Perhaps, I was, in some respects something of a loner. But after I got married, that certainly changed my life very considerably, indeed. I found that it was possible to mix having a family with continuing on with adventurous activities, but I think a great deal of that was having a suitable wife. My wife was very, long-suffering. She knew that there were certain things I wanted to do and she was happy that I should do them. She was prepared to put up with considerable periods of being alone with the kids. She, was marvelous, so it made it possible for me to do the things that I wanted to do as well. When I was home, we had a very relaxed and pleasant family life.

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo
Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo

Those years from 1953 to 1975 were extremely happy years for me. I did many adventurous activities. I got deeply involved in these aid programs for the people of the Himalayas.

I had a nice family, we took our family into the out-of-doors, we camped and we swam and we clambered around the hills. For me, it was a very full and a very happy existence. Well, then of course, came the disaster in 1975, when my wife and my youngest daughter were flying into the Nepal hills where I was building a hospital and their plane crashed and they were killed. And this certainly, for me, was an absolute disaster, really because the two people that meant most to me in life had been killed in one fell swoop. It did take me quite a number of years to get over it. I found the only way to deal with it was to carry on very energetically, doing the things that we had all been doing together, which was largely building schools and things for the mountain people. Although, people used to say to me, "Time is the great healer," certainly for the first two years I simply didn't accept this. But, time was a great healer and after the years passed, the memories still remain. But, I think quite a lot of the pain tends to fade a little bit, and life did become a little bit easier. And then, of course, some years later, my wife and I had been very close friends with another couple. Peter had gone with me to the South Pole and been with me in the Himalayas, and his wife June and my wife Louise are very close friends and had been for years and years. Peter died in a plane crash. This was a plane crash in the Antarctic. June and I, who had been close friends for years and years, decided it wouldn't be a bad idea if we were both alone, so we got married. Over the last six or seven years, that has been a very happy arrangement and, in a sense, a new stage in my life has developed.

I firmly believe that companionship, and good companionship, is one of the most valuable things that you can have, and we have certainly had that.

Speaking of companionship, let's get back to when you were young and you were a loner. Were you unhappy being alone?

Sir Edmund Hillary: I was extremely restless, and being restless can be a slightly unhappy sort of existence, even though it often stimulated me into getting involved in energetic activities. I don't think I ever was, certainly never was a happy teenager. I think being a teenager's the worst period in anybody's life having observed myself and even my children. It's an important period in anybody's life, but so many teenagers are so uncertain and so miserable. Sort of trying to feel their way and all the rest of it. There are some teenagers, however who thoroughly enjoy it, but I have no desire whatsoever, if I was given the opportunity to go back to being a teenager, heavens alive, I would dodge it like fury.

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo
What would you say to a young person who felt lonely and asked you, "How am I going to survive this?"

Sir Edmund Hillary: I do think that friends are very valuable to have and particularly good, older friends. If you are even a beginner in some sort of interesting and adventurous activity, quite often, you simply don't want to think about or be involved with older people and you just want to do your own thing and be with younger people.

But, I recommend to younger people that it's foolish to start from scratch again. Older people really have a lot of experience. They have a lot of knowledge. Some of them are even quite pleasant people, and I recommend to the young ones to take advantage of all that previous experience and knowledge and understanding which older people have. Absorb it all, and then drop the old people if you'd like, and go off and do your own thing. At least you're starting with all that built-up accumulation of knowledge and understanding that's been going on for generations. I think this is a very valuable thing that young people can do. Quite often a young person who is unhappy and uncertain, can make friendships with some slightly older people with more experience and maybe learn a little bit from them and get a little bit more certain in themselves. Now I know a lot of youngsters couldn't care less about this, but that's what I would recommend to a lot of them. I actually learned a lot from older people when I was in my 20s. What little I did learn was mostly from older people, not from young ones.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo

Did you have the feeling you were destined to achieve something very unique and special?

Sir Edmund Hillary: No. I had no such ideas whatsoever. All I wanted was to get out there and do things and have excitement in the adventure sense. I had no conception whatsoever as to what it was ultimately going to be and to what stage I was going to reach.

Where do you think this intense motivation came from? Your mother? A teacher?

Sir Edmund Hillary: I really honestly don't know. I have no idea.

I had a grandmother who was an Irish grandmother who came out to New Zealand and she was a wonderful old lady. She lived up to 96 years old and, even in her 90s, she had great vitality and great enthusiasm and a tremendous sense of fun. I know that for a while I was quite influenced by her spirit she showed during the latter days of her life. But, I really have no idea why I wanted to keep dashing on in these ways because I realized that it wasn't the normal attitude of the majority of young people. Most young people were more interested in going to the movies or going to the beach or something or other. I really wasn't all that great on that sort of stuff. I just wanted to get out in the hills.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

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This page last revised on Feb 05, 2008 18:08 EDT
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