A few days after his triumphant ascent of Mount Everest with Tenzing Norgay, Ed Hillary received word that Queen Elizabeth planned to make him Sir Edmund. He was taken aback. “Oh, I found it difficult,” he recalls now. “I didn’t feel I was the ideal sort of person who should have a title.” For one thing, he couldn’t see strolling around his hometown of Papakura, New Zealand, in his old work clothes, a knight commander of the Order of the British Empire. “My God,” he remembers saying to himself, “I’ll have to buy a new pair of overalls.”
Here was a new kind of hero, a tall, rangy beekeeper from the fringes of the empire. One of only two Kiwis on the 1953 Everest expedition—his pal George Lowe was the other—he may have lacked the social graces of his eight English climbing partners. But he more than made up for it with strength and tenacity. Having learned to climb in New Zealand’s Southern Alps in the winter (the off-season for bees), Hillary was as bold on ice and snow as anyone on the team. And he and Tenzing had made it to the top.