The mountaineer and adventurer Graeme Dingle struggled to put the loss of his longtime friend Sir Ed into words.
"He was a great human mirror of who we are, or who we like to think we are," Mr Dingle said.
The country has never lost someone like Sir Ed who epitomises the nation's psyche, he said.
"That's why the nation chose him. We naturally position our character so we're relatively taciturn, we're not inclined to brag, we've got a good sense of humour and we're tough."
Mr Dingle said Sir Ed reflected those values in his life.
He said the Hillary family have lost someone who was as much a family man as a national treasure.
"The loss of someone who cared about his grand kids so much is huge," he said.
An emotional Mr Dingle said he and his wife had just made a diary entry to see Sir Ed in the New Year and had managed to see him shortly before Christmas.
He said great men - Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama - have a love for children and animals.
"He was pretty crook but he said: how's your daughter? We held our little dog up and his eyes just lit up," Mr Dingle said.
He said trying to describe a great man can sound trite.
"He was restless, he was talented, he didn't give up easily - he was incredibly determined. He would have said it wasn't the quickness of wit or the quickness of body but the business of being dogged. I think that's the measure of greatness," Mr Dingle said.
He said early on in his life, Sir Ed was"relatively unsophisticated" and a determined mountaineer who worked incredibly hard.
"As time went on he became much more sophisticated and almost certainly wiser although he had innate wisdom from a long way back," Mr Dingle said.