Altruist Sir Ed gave money away

By Stephen Cook, Carolyne Meng-Yee

He may have been the face of the $5 bill, but when it came to his own money Sir Edmund Hillary gave most of it away.

Despite earning significant sums of money on lucrative speaking tours as well as from book royalties and camping equipment bearing his name, the altruistic 88-year-old lived an extremely modest lifestyle.

Sir Edmund lived on the pension in the same Remuera Rd home he built 50 years ago with first wife Louise, who died in a plane crash with 16-year-old daughter Belinda in 1975.

It is unclear who will benefit from Sir Ed's will, but common practice suggests any major assets would simply be passed to his widow, June.

Whether Sir Ed made any provision in his will for his two surviving children, Sarah and Peter Hillary, is unclear.

Sarah works as an art conservator in Auckland and has managed to avoid the public gaze while Peter is a successful mountaineer and adventure travel operator. He was the 279th person to scale Mt Everest.

Family friend Mark Sainsbury told the Herald on Sunday yesterday money was never important to Sir Ed or Lady Hillary.

"He could have made a fortune, but most of the money he earned went into the Himalayan Trust," Sainsbury said. "His house is pretty basic... All around there are mansions with pools...

so, no, there weren't any big plasma televisions or anything.

"He didn't drive a flash car. He could have been driving around in Mercs, but he never did. He certainly did not lead an extravagant lifestyle.

"He could have made a fortune for himself. I don't think he was struggling but at the same token you never got the impression he was rolling in dough."

Sir Ed established the Himalayan Trust in 1960 to battle poverty in the mountain villages of Nepal. The trust has built three hospitals, 13 health clinics, more than 30 schools, and bridges and roads.

Sainsbury said Lady Hillary was committed to continuing Sir Ed's legacy with the trust. "She has always been very involved in the trust and getting things sorted in Nepal."

Lady Hillary was in good health - "amazing for her age" - and was holding things together despite being widowed for a second time.

Before her husband was admitted to hospital they enjoyed a wonderful family Christmas, with Sir Ed "up and about and doing stuff". He had been in "really good spirits" in his last few and had enjoyed the nurses fussing around him, Sainsbury said.

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