Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Queen Attends Memorial Service for Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary was commemorated in royal splendour late last night as the Queen paid her respects to the great mountaineer at a rare memorial service at Windsor Castle near London.

Dressed in a black coat and hat, the Queen, accompanied by Princess Anne, took her place in the 500-year-old St George's Chapel for the service of thanksgiving, which also marked the laying up of his Knight of the Garter banner on the altar.

Sir Ed's family were the Queen's guests at the service.

Lady June Hillary sat in the front row alongside Prime Minister Helen Clark, her husband Professor Peter Davis, Lady June's granddaughter Rebecca Hayman, Sir Ed's children Peter and Sarah and grandson Sam Mulgrew.

Other notables present included the Countess of Wessex, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon, former NZ prime minister Jenny Shipley, former All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick, former British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington and Sir Winston Churchill's daughter Lady Mary Soames.

Prince Philip was to have attended but had a heavy cold.

Nick Madden from Dunedin started the service with a song written by his father Richard Madden, How Beautiful the Mountain.

Royal spokesman Stuart Neale said the service reflected the enormous regard the Queen and her family held for Sir Ed.

The Queen had always made a point of seeing him whenever she visited New Zealand.

The service included addresses by Helen Clark and Peter Hillary, a reading of an Allen Curnow poem by Sarah Hillary and a reading of the Beatitudes by Sam Mulgrew t also included singing by British-based New Zealand bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu and a reading from Sir Edmund's own writing by Rebecca Hayman.

Sir Edmund's son Peter Hillary said it was a "wonderful coincidence" that the ascent of Everest and the Coronation came at the same time in a "landscape of a war-ravaged Europe".

He said the ascent of Everest was a catalyst for positive developments in Nepal of clean water, schools, hospitals and airstrips.

"For my father, his long association with the royal family since the coronation [in 1953] and [his conquest of] Everest gave him great pleasure and honour. He was grateful for the friendship," Peter Hillary said.

His father taught him "posthumous success was over-rated".

Mr Hillary said Sir Edmund told him: "You can't just sit around and wait for things to happen. You have to get on with the job."

He said his father spoke to him by telephone at the top of Everest when he climbed the world's highest peak in 1990 to become the first son to follow his father to the top.

"He said 'look after yourself. You're not done until you're down'."

He said he was always amused by his father's use of ordinary agricultural Massey Ferguson tractors to reach the South Pole in 1958 and recounted two anecdotes showing Sir Edmund's modesty.

The first was when a reporter suggested that K2 was a bigger mountain than Everest. Sir Edmund said: "Oh well, I've had 40 good years out of it."

In another interview a reporter suggested Sir Edmund was modest. He replied: "I've got a lot to be modest about."

He said Sir Edmund was "loved and revered" in Nepal and "it doesn't get any better than that".

After a poignant karanga by Mereana Hond - reportedly the first time te reo Maori had been heard in the chapel - the Dean of Windsor and Register of the Order of the Garter, David Conner, received Sir Ed's banner from the Military Knights of Windsor, resplendent in their scarlet tunics.

He then placed it on the altar and said: "Rest eternal, grant unto him O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon him".

Earlier, Dean Conner had said the service was not purely to commemorate Sir Ed but also to commit to the causes he held dear.

"From his appointment as a Knight of the Garter in 1995 to the present moment, Sir Edmund has been regularly prayed for in this place by the community of the College of St George, and it is our particular privilege today to offer up his garter banner on the altar as a token of a life laid down before God for the common good.

"Yet we are not here simply to recall the blessings of the past, but more importantly, and in the spirit of Sir Edmund, to commit ourselves to the future well-being of humanity, praying that we may have strength of purpose and courage to build on the strong foundation he has left for us."

Helen Clark said the Queen's service was rare and special.

And she described Sir Ed as "our most loved, most famous and most international citizen. He stood tall among us like no other.

"His outstanding achievements as an adventurer and explorer on their own secured his place in New Zealand and world history.

"But the very high esteem in which we held Sir Edmund was also based on his humanitarianism and his values," the Prime Minister said.

"He cared, he set high benchmarks of citizenship for others, he made a big difference to many.

"We New Zealanders saw Sir Edmund as one of us - from his craggy looks to his love of the outdoors, his sense of adventure, and his concern for others.

"Sir Edmund was our hero - we admired and respected him, we saw in him the values we would want all our citizens to uphold."

After the service, Lady June and and the family had a private audience with the Queen.

Later, Dean Conner was to return Sir Ed's banner to his family.

-- With Thanks to the New Zealand Herald.

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