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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

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Encyclopedia.com
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jerberyd.com

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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: 3 / 6)

Conqueror of Mt. Everest

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  Sir Edmund Hillary

Did you have any heroes or role models when you were growing up?


Sir Edmund Hillary: I did have -- definitely -- one heroic figure who impressed me very much indeed, and that was the great Antarctic explorer, Shackleton. Shackleton I always admired because he was a tough man and a very good leader. And whenever he was in difficult circumstances, which he frequently was, he seemed to have the great ability to inspire his men and lead his party safely out of those conditions. So certainly Shackleton, I would have said, more than anything, was a role model for me. And later on, when I was down in the Antarctic myself and doing various adventures, I really felt that I tried to behave perhaps a little bit more like Shackleton, than any of the other famous Antarctic explorers.

[ Key to Success ] Vision


Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo
Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo

Behave in what way like him?


Sir Edmund Hillary: Shackleton was a man who was prepared to make a decision and change his mind quickly. There are a lot of very successful explorers who choose their plan and their path and stick to it very closely indeed, following it very methodically through. This was not the attitude of Shackleton and certainly wasn't my attitude. The main objective remained, but there were always a multitude of alternatives of how you achieve these objectives. So, I was the sort of, Antarctic explorer. If someone came up with a good idea, I was perfectly prepared to accept it. A lot of people who are leading an expedition, if someone produces a good idea, they refuse to accept it because they feel it's letting themselves down, but I was happy to accept anybody's idea and to absorb it and take it over and use it, and usually they were pretty good ideas. I was always prepared to -- if the circumstances seemed suitable -- change a complete plan, to go in a different direction or use a different method. In that sense, I think, I admired Shackleton. He was very adaptable, and I tried to be very similar.


Did that have to do with an intellectual decision or listening to, as they say, your gut, your intuition?

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo
Sir Edmund Hillary: I think it was a combination of feeling and judgment. I happened to be that sort of person that enjoyed making out plans, but I also enjoy changing plans. On an expedition, although I may start out with a detailed plan, I'm prepared to change it at any moment and completely redo it. So our expeditions turned out to be very adaptable ones. We achieved the final objectives just the same as many other expeditions, but maybe we had more fun in the process because it seemed something we could vary. We still carried on to achieve our major objectives.

I know your family business was beekeeping. Were you expected to go into that business?

Sir Edmund Hillary: We weren't expected to go into to it. My father was the editor of a country newspaper, so he was very much involved in press activities. My mother was a school teacher. My father took over a newspaper in a small country town. It had the grand name of the Tuakau District News and it was very small. He did everything. He was the reporter, he went to all the football matches and reported on them. He knew everybody in the whole area. He would write the articles and set up the actual type, as you used to have to do in those days. We had a printing press in a shed on our small farm, and he printed the newspaper. In fact, I think the only thing he didn't do was deliver it 'round to all the houses in the area. He was, in his own way, a very resourceful individual.


My parents also were people of very strong character. They had strong principles, as many people did in those days. It was during the early days of the Depression and my father felt very strongly, indeed. There was a period when food was being destroyed in order to keep the price of food up, and yet there were thousands, millions of people going short on food. That type of thing really irritated him. He thought that was completely unjust. Although I was not aware of it at the time, I think I was brought up to this feeling that it was important to be interested in the welfare of other people and other people around the world, really. My mother used to say to me a thing which, when I look back on it, wasn't terribly logical. -- and I had a pretty hearty appetite, but when I had had a large meal put in front of me, and even I couldn't get through it, she would say, "Edmund, remember the starving millions in Asia." Now what possible use my consuming it would do for the starving millions in Asia, I don't really know, but the fact remains that I was brought up to think about the starving millions in Asia. That meant I had to clean my plate up and not waste it. Later on, I got more involved with the starving millions in Asia, perhaps in a slightly more practical way: helping some of them with schooling and hospitaling and even in agriculture.


So a lot of your values came directly out of what your family demonstrated.

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo
Sir Edmund Hillary: Yes they did, and I really wasn't aware of it at the time. I didn't analyze what my parents were doing and say, "That's a good thing, I must do that when I get older." Those sort of thoughts never entered my mind, but I was definitely brought up in an atmosphere where my parents had these firm convictions. They had very strong ideas about what was right and wrong and all the rest of it. I had great arguments with my father as a consequence but, I don't think there's any question at all, a great deal of what I would regard as very good, sound philosophy, almost unconsciously, was handed on to their children.

How did your parents feel about your lust for adventure?

Sir Edmund Hillary: I don't think they really cared too much. In fact, I don't know that they knew it was going on. They knew that I used to love going on long walks, but I'm sure that they didn't realize what I was dreaming when I was doing it. They were aware that I was a very keen reader, but they thought that was a good thing anyway. They certainly didn't supervise the type of books which I read. I would have said my reading tended to be the lighter, more adventurous type of thing. I wasn't a great reader of Shakespeare and things of that nature, although I had to do it at school. I think they pretty much left me alone in that respect.

Did you feel you were different than other kids? Did you feel that you were gifted or smarter?

Sir Edmund Hillary: No.


I knew I wasn't smarter than other kids. In fact, when I first went to high school, I was a relatively lonely child. I didn't really have any friendships there. I started off in high school a couple of years younger than the majority of the students, because at the little country, primary school, where I attended, my mother, who had been a school teacher, sort of coached me, and I became the child genius of the Tuakau primary school, which I can assure you, was not all that big a deal in those days. For the small Tuakau primary school, I sort of skipped a few classes and then I finally went to high school when I was 11 instead of the normal age of 13 years. Coming from a country area, going into a big city school which, academically, is probably the best school in New Zealand was quite a shock to me. I was younger and smaller than the other students, and I really had no friends there whatsoever. For a year or two, it was quite difficult for me. It was a lonely existence and I certainly didn't particularly enjoy it. I started growing then. I remember, in one year I grew six inches and the next year I grew five inches, which is not uncommon with kids of that age. Suddenly, I started getting bigger and I was bigger than lots of my fellow students and I became more physically competent. So I gained confidence in that way.


But I was always a modest student. I was sort of in the middle. I wasn't awful and I wasn't good, but I was adequate.

Did you work on developing yourself, then, physically, getting ready for the kind of career you would pursue?

Sir Edmund Hillary: I did find that I was getting increasingly physically active. I was never what you would call a great athlete, in the sense that an athlete has a tremendous eye and tremendous ball sense and great speed of movement and that sort of thing. I was more the rugged, robust type, and I was physically strong. I was also pretty strongly motivated. Even in those early days, if I started out to do something, I generally ended up by getting pretty close to completing.

Let's talk about motivation. Obviously, your life has had a lot of self-motivation.


Sir Edmund Hillary: I think motivation is the single most important factor in any sort of success. Physical fitness is important, technical skill is important, and maybe even the desire for money is important in some respects. But a sort of basic motivation, the desire to succeed, to stretch yourself to the utmost is the most important factor. Certainly in the field of exploration and activity, it's the thing that makes the difference between someone who does really well and someone who doesn't.


Let's talk about motivation and things that aren't necessarily accomplished the first time. When you don't get the encouragement, how do you keep your motivation going?

Sir Edmund Hillary: I've always felt that it's far more important to set your sights high. Aim for something high, and even fail on it if necessary. To me, that's always been more impressive than someone who doesn't ask for very much and achieves it. That's not a great deal of satisfaction, in my view. I've always tried to carry things through to a conclusion once I've started them. Setting your sights high and extending what were -- in my case -- modest abilities to the utmost... If you succeed, you certainly get a tremendous sense of satisfaction.

You see yourself as just having modest abilities?


Sir Edmund Hillary: I have very modest abilities. Academically I was very modest. Mediocre perhaps, and I think perhaps physically I did not have a great athletic sense, but I was big and strong. But, I think maybe the only thing in which I was less than modest was in motivation. I really wanted very strongly to do many of these things and once I started I didn't give up all that easily.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance


What about failures? Have you had any? And what did you do with that experience?

Sir Edmund Hillary: Well, it sounds arrogant, but I can't remember having all that many failures in major things that I set out to do. Sometimes objectives almost changed during the course of something you were attempting to do. You would decide that a more important objective was such-and-such a thing, rather than what you had initially set out to do. But I think on the whole, I have been able to carry through the majority of my projects to some successful conclusion.

What person or experience solidified the idea in your mind that adventure was going to be a career, not just a hobby?


Sir Edmund Hillary: I still regard adventure pretty much as a hobby to tell you the honest truth, and I think this approach to it keeps one refreshed almost. I think if you just regard adventure as a business, working becomes very boring as many other businesses can become. But even though adventure changed my life considerably, both in what I was doing and even economically, I've always regarded myself in a sense as a competent amateur. Because of that, I think a freshness has been brought to it, that every new adventure has been a new experience and great fun. I really like to enjoy my adventures. I get frightened to death on many, many occasions but, of course, fear can be, also, a stimulating factor. When you're afraid, the blood surges in the veins and so on. If you get rigid with fear, quite obviously, fear is not a very satisfactory characteristic to have, but if it's a stimulating factor, then I think you can often extend yourself far more than you really believe is possible. And instead of being just a mediocre person, for a moment anyway, you become someone of considerable competence.

[ Key to Success ] Courage


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