The late Sir Edmund Hillary led a full and varied life. In an old interview replayed on the BBC World Service this morning, he said that he considered his conquest of Everest not to be the high point of his life, but merely the beginning of a lifelong connection to the Sherpas of Nepal, which continued through his philanthropic work, particularly his Himalayan Trust.
One point that has been ignored by all coverage of Sir Edmund’s death I’ve seen today is that his achievements may have inspired a pregnant Dorothy Rodham in 1947 to name her daughter after the mountaineer. On a trip to Nepal in 1995, the two Hillarys bumped into each other at Kathmandu airport, apparently coincidentally, and speaking to the press afterwards, the first lady said that her mother had once told her that she had been named after Sir Edmund.
Given recent events in the US, you might think it surprising that the obituaries don’t seem to have picked up on this pleasing story. This may, however, be something to do with the fact that it’s probably codswallop. Hillary Rodham was born six years before Sir Edmund’s Everest ascent, and although in 1947 he was a serious climber, and may possibly have been profiled in some periodical or other, it’s unlikely that what were then his fairly modest achievements would have inspired Dorothy Rodham to take his name for her daughter. More at the essential urban legends reference guide Snopes.