"Reaching the summit of a mountain gives great satisfaction, but nothing for me has been more rewarding in life than the result of our climb on Everest, when we have devoted ourselves to the welfare of our Sherpa friends."
- Sir Edmund Hillary
Physically, the scope of his most famous accomplishment was immense—but to Sir Edmund Hillary, reaching the summit of the highest mountain on earth was simply a step toward something much greater: improving the lives of the Sherpa people who helped make his climb possible.
Toughened by centuries of survival in an unforgiving climate, the Sherpa people are famously resilient-and Sir Edmund respected their courage, strength, and ability to adapt. Still, he was consumed by a sense of inequity. His Sherpa friends, for example, must walk for weeks over treacherous terrain to reach a hospital or school—facilities that his fellow New Zealanders took for granted every day.
Until these inequities were rectified, Sir Edmund could not turn his back on the people of the Himalayas. Rather than embrace the leisurely life of celebrity that was his for the taking, he remained an advocate, a benefactor, and a hero to the Sherpa people for the rest of his life.
Because of his unwavering commitment, Sir Edmund was also a hero to Grand Circle Foundation—as well as one of our most inspirational leaders. Since his passing in 2008 at the age of 88, he has been sorely missed—and Alan and Harriet Lewis continue to work with Sir Edmund's widow, Lady June Mulgrew Hillary, to honor his memory by giving back.
A natural mentor
Alan and Harriet first became acquainted with Sir Edmund and Lady June in 1992, shortly after Grand Circle Foundation was established. Through the Foundation, the Lewises made a donation to Sir Edmund's Himalayan Trust, which, since its inception in 1960, has helped to establish two hospitals, 13 health clinics, more than 30 schools, two airstrips, and more for the once-impoverished Himalayan people.
While the extent of Sir Edmund's humanitarian work certainly spoke for itself, there was something more about the man that particularly spoke to Alan and Harriet; by his very nature, he epitomized the values that formed the foundation of Grand Circle's corporate culture. Who better to inspire associates to take risks and push themselves one step beyond their perceived limits, or to maximize their successes by thriving in an ever-changing environment?
For these reasons and so many more, Alan and Harriet invited Sir Edmund to be among the first notables to join the Grand Circle Foundation Honorary Board of Directors—modern-day heroes who serve as mentors in leadership and philanthropy.
Sir Edmund and Grand Circle
In 1993, Alan and Harriet had the opportunity to meet Sir Edmund in person when he joined them on a special cruise to Antarctica to celebrate Grand Circle's 35th anniversary. They were immediately struck by his humility and modesty. For all his achievements, his demeanor seemed more suited toward the unassuming beekeeper that he once was than the world-famous mountaineer he had become.
The three convened in Santiago, Chile, and flew together to Punta Arenas, where they boarded a cruise ship for Antarctica. Sir Edmund stayed onboard for five nights, much to the delight of some 300 lucky Grand Circle passengers—and on the day he was scheduled to catch his flight home, the ship was forced to wait off the coast of Ushuaia due to bad weather. A little pilot boat came out to get him, bouncing and bobbing precariously over the swells. Sir Edmund was in his late 70s at the time, and onlookers (including Alan and Harriet) were concerned as to how he would get from the ship's ladder to the less-than-stable craft that awaited him.
Of course, they needn't have worried. At the bottom of the ladder, Sir Edmund turned, waved, and took a giant leap, landing safely in the pilot boat.
It was the first of many inspirational encounters that Sir Edmund shared with Grand Circle. In 1993, he brought Lady June with him to visit company headquarters in Boston, where they met with associates and shared firsthand stories of leadership. Over the years, the Hillarys returned to Grand Circle whenever their travels brought them to New England, and Sir Edmund spoke to associates for the final time in 2003.
Legacy of a leader
Since Sir Edmund's passing, Lady June has admirably continued her late husband's work, taking over as Chairman of the Himalayan Trust to ensure that the people of Nepal are not forgotten. We are also pleased to welcome her to Grand Circle Foundation's Honorary Board of Directors, where she will continue the legacy of leadership that Sir Edmund began.
Lady June was thrilled to learn that Alan and Harriet created a new level of the Overseas Adventurers' Club called the Sir Edmund Hillary Team, reserved for our very best OAT travelers. In addition, Grand Circle Foundation made a second donation to the Himalayan Trust in his memory, bringing the total amount to $556,000.
Sir Edmund's memory also inspires the continued efforts of Grand Circle Foundation to give back to the world we travel. Alan and Harriet never forget to show gratitude to the communities around the world that have contributed to their success—the schoolhouses and villages, the family homes and farms that welcome OAT and Grand Circle travelers every day with open arms.
As Sir Edmund taught us, there is always more to be done, there is always another challenge—and as we rise to meet these challenges, we do so with his legendary words in mind: "It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."