A hundred years since his birth and Ed Hillary still has no credible competitor for the title of greatest New Zealander in the hearts and minds of the population.
There have been New Zealanders who have had more impact on this country and the rest of the world, such as Beatrice Tinsley, who worked out how to tell the life stories of galaxies.
Or Colin Murdoch whose invention of the disposable syringe has saved millions of lives. Or Sir Apirana Ngata, who did so much to inspire the revival of Maori culture and whom Ed's fellow adventurer Graham Dingle has cited as a New Zealander who made more difference to this country than the conqueror of Everest did.
• READ MORE: 100 reasons the world loved Sir Edmund Hillary
The "greatest" accolade is surrounded by ironies. For a start, Ed is most famous for doing something that had nothing to do with New Zealand: as a member of British-led expedition, he was the first person to get to the top of a sacred mountain in Nepal.
But perception is the reality of greatness, and none of the other contenders touched as many hearts in as many ways as Ed, so the job of greatest New Zealander went to the affable approachable beekeeper from Tuakau, who always presented himself as a typical bloke.
He went to his grave maintaining this ordinariness. Only by doing so was he able to maintain such an extraordinary level of achievement for the rest of his life. It made him relatable. Everyone wanted to be his friend. Everyone wanted to be on Ed's team. Everyone wanted to please him.
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And yet, one of the most distinctive things about Ed is how atypical he was. Many of the attributes that took him to the top are qualities not widely shared. He was stubborn as hell and competitive in ways we were once taught not to admire as New Zealanders.
On the Everest expedition, he bounded up and down mountainsides, toted heavyweights and took every other opportunity to demonstrate to the group's leadership that he had what it would take to get to the top and should be chosen to attempt the ascent.
Here and on other adventures, notably the overland trip to the South Pole, he was ruthless in the service of achieving his aims. Mountaineers tend to be. It's not a pastime for the dilatory, and it's a foolish person who would stand between a climber and the peak on which his or her sights are set. Such determination is valued now. Back then it was generally regarded as a little unseemly.
Many of the attributes that took him to the top are qualities not widely shared. He was stubborn as hell, and competitive in ways we were once taught not to admire as New Zealanders.
Other qualities have fallen out of favour. Ed's egalitarianism and belief in serving others were typical of his time, but have long since ceased to be seen as essential elements of the national character.
He kept those values to the end too. He had a house and a bach, but so did many people of his generation. When he died, his estate, though healthy, was far short of what someone who had had 50 years to capitalise on an achievement could have amassed. A few million dollars disbursed among family and others, and some specific bequests. Lady Hillary got the keys to the Honda. His refusal to do a lucrative ad for a breakfast cereal on the grounds that he did not like the cereal was typical.
Ed wanted to be remembered for his work to improve living standards in Nepal as much as anything, and that is a great achievement.
Closer to home, his greatness was not in what he provided but in the example he set. He didn't just inspire those with remarkable abilities and physical prowess equal to his own. He also inspired anyone at all who felt they didn't fit the mould to keep searching and striving. He kept searching until he discovered mountains, and then there was no stopping him.