A Lofty Legacy

The recent death of Queen Elizabeth sparked many look-backs on her life and reign including one of her coronation, June 2nd, 1953. The photos were black and white, the young monarch was clad in smiles and surrounded by happy well-wishers. The reign of Queen Elizabeth II had begun. At the same time, on the other side of the planet, news broke that two men had just claimed the summit of Mt. Everest. Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa climber from Nepal had accomplished what others, dating back to 1922, had failed to do—conquer Sagarmatha, the mountain’s  Nepali name. Their achievement was broadcast around the world, and Britons hailed it as a good omen for the beginning of another Elizabethan era. The new queen learned of their achievement on June 1, the eve of her coronation. Later that year, she knighted him, and he became Sir Edmund Hillary. Not being a Commonwealth member, Tenzing only received the British Empire Medal for “meritorious civil service worthy of recognition by the Crown” and the George Medal awarded for gallantry by a civilian.

Afterwards, Tenzing became a Nepali national hero and received many awards and lucrative opportunities. King Tribhuvan presented him with the Order of the Star of Nepal, 1st Class. The highest peak on the planet Pluto was named Tenzing Montes as well as a Himalayan peak in Nepal. He could neither read nor write but was heard to say: “It has been a long road…From a mountain porter to a wearer of a coat with rows of medals who is carried about in planes and worries about income taxes.” He was famous for his flashing smile which I immediately noticed when I met him in Kathmandu and asked for his autograph and he obliged.

Tenzing Norgay and Hillary made a pact. They knew that the press would ask who ascended to the summit first. So they pledged not to answer because the one couldn’t have reached the top without the other. But when Hillary died in 2008, Tenzing allowed as how he had reached the summit first. No one contradicted him…especially when he flashed his signature grin.

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Mark Sconce
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