- Title: NEW ZEALAND: New Zealanders pay last respects to Sir Edmund Hillary
- Date: 21st January 2008
- Summary: (BN02) AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND (JANUARY 21, 2008) (REUTERS) NEW ZEALAND FLAG WITH THE CHURCH'S CROSS IN THE BACKDROP NEW ZEALAND FLAG HALF-MAST IN FRONT OF THE CATHEDRAL NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER HELEN CLARK ARRIVING IN FOR THE SERVICE CAR CARRYING HILLARY'S CASKET ARRIVES
- Embargoed: 5th February 2008 12:00
- Location: New Zealand
- Country: New Zealand
- Topics: History,Obituaries
- Reuters ID: LVADBREY83TJTEBJP28S115696CZ
- Story Text: Hundreds of people queued on Monday (January 21) to pay their last respects to Sir Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Mount Everest, whose body lay in state in New Zealand ahead of his funeral on Tuesday.
The flag-draped coffin of the first man to climb the world's highest peak was carried into Auckland's cathedral by members of the New Zealand armed forces, as local Maoris stood in light rain and delivered a traditional welcome.
Hillary, 88, who died after a heart attack on January 11, will lie in state for 24 hours to allow the public to say farewell New Zealand's greatest hero -- a former beekeeper who became one of the 20th century's most admired adventurers and humanitarians.
Hillary, along with Nepal's Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, scaled Everest in 1953, telling companions after the climb: "We knocked the bastard off".
Inside the cathedral, Hillary's coffin was covered with flowers and a mountain axe, as members of the local Nepali community placed cream-coloured prayer scarves over one end of the coffin and representatives of the Indian community adorned a large oil painting of "Sir Ed" with a long garland of flowers.
After wreaths were laid by the representative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, New Zealand's head of state, and political representatives, the church was opened to the public.
Hundreds started filing passed the coffin, some uttering quiet prayers, others pausing momentarily with bowed heads.
"Many people there is educated, because of Sir Ed, otherwise that would not have been possible," said Doctor Sanat Dhungel, a former director of Nepalese Wildlife Department who had met Hillary in the mid-1970s, referring to the people in Nepal getting more educated because of Hillary.
Thousands are expected to pay their respects at the church before Tuesday's (January 22) funeral service, and large crowds are also expected at an Auckland park near the cathedral to watch the funeral on giant video screens.
"I think today is important for us as the people of New Zealand because during a lot of our lives Edmund Hillary has been there, quietly working his magic all over the world and it is my privilege to be part of the generation that will remember him and pass it onto my children," said a New Zealander woman.
"My wife and I were married, Ed Hillary climbed the Everest and the Queen was crowned, all in the same year, so we have a lot to think about but admired him ever since," said a New Zealand man waiting in front of the church to pay his respects.
Among the mourners are expected to be descendants of Tenzing Norgay, who climbed the 8,850 metre (29,035 feet) Everest with Hillary. Nepali Sherpas have staged several memorial ceremonies in Kathmandu since Hillary's death, lighting butter lamps and offering special Buddhist prayers for his reincarnation.
After Everest, Hillary led a number of expeditions. In 1958, he and four companions traveled overland in three modified tractors to become the first to reach the South Pole by vehicle.
But most of his energy was devoted to helping Nepal's Sherpa people, who live in the shadow of Everest. His Himalaya Trust raised about $250,000 U.S. dollars a year, building 26 schools, two hospitals, an airport and providing scholarships for Sherpa children in the Himalayan nation, home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains including Mount Everest.
In 2003, Hillary received honorary Nepali citizenship in recognition of his services to the people and the Solukhumbhu region, where Mount Everest is located.
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