World Wildlife Fund mourns the loss of global explorer Sir Edmund Hillary, who conquered Mt. Everest but never forgot the people of the Himalayas who made his accomplishment possible.
Hillary passed away in New Zealand at the age of 88 after a life filled with adventure and a commitment to help build health clinics and schools in Nepal and clean up the slopes of Everest. It was his way of showing his appreciation for the Sherpas who helped him and climbing partner Tenzing Norgay reach the summit of Everest in 1953. He was a former board member of WWF-International and a longtime supporter of WWF New Zealand and WWF Nepal.
"Sir Edmund Hillary was a towering figure in exploration and conservation, but most importantly he was a humble man who cared deeply about the future of the Nepalese people," said Carter Roberts, President of World Wildlife Fund.
Hillary was especially close to one student, Mingma Sherpa, who was in the first graduating class of the Khumjung School - the first of many he built after his epic ascent. Hillary became a mentor to Mingma, culminating with his successful lobbying to have Mingma named the first Sherpa Chief Warden of Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park. Mingma continued Hillary's legacy through his work at World Wildlife Fund, where he ran the Nepal and Bhutan programs before heading the Eastern Himalayas Program. He traveled the world to build support for his beloved Himalayas and spread the philosophy of "conservation with a human face."
Mingma was among 24 people who died in the tragic helicopter crash of September 2006 after returning from a ceremony to do exactly what he and his mentor cared most about - turning over the conservation of Mt. Kangchenjunga - the world's third highest peak -- to the local community.
"While Sir Edmund is remembered most for conquering the world's tallest mountain, his greatest accomplishment is helping the Sherpa people achieve dignity and a healthy, sustainable future," Roberts added. "We honor his work and his commitment to the people, wildlife and habitats of the Himalayas."