Standing at the tombstone of Thomas Jefferson years ago, I was surprised toread his epitaph:HERE WAS BURIEDTHOMAS JEFFERSONAUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCEOF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND FATHER OF THEUNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIAIt seems that our third president desired a tombstone reflecting the thingshe had given the people, not the things that the people had given to him.Upon reading of the death of Sir Edmund Hilary a couple of weeks ago,Jefferson’s epitaph came to mind.This New Zealander, along with the Sherpa tribe member Tenzing Norgay, werethe first to reach the staggering height of Mt Everest (29,035 feet) innorthern Nepal. They became instant celebrities.It was one of the defining moments of the 20th century and they arrived atEverest’s summit as a young queen named Elizabeth was being crowned inEngland. Upon hearing of this accomplishment, she knighted Hilary and gaveTenzing Norgay the highest civilian award.Fifteen previous expeditions had failed. Although the North Pole and SouthPole had been reached several decades before, Everest seemed beyond mortals.Such accolades might have been enough for one to rest upon for life’sremainder. But Hilary’s friendship with Tenzing gave him a deep love andrespect for the people of Nepal. Noting the difficult social problems ofthis country and lack of schools, with their permission, Hilary founded theHimalayan Trust and assisted in the building of numerous schools, hospitalsand clinics. He was made an honorary citizen of Nepal.Toward the end of his life he remarked: “I have been fortunate enough to beinvolved in many exciting adventures. But when I look back over my life, Ihave little doubt that the most worthwhile things I have done have not beenstanding on the summits of mountains or at the North and South Poles, greatexperiences though they were. My most important projects have been thebuilding and maintaining of schools and medical clinics for my good friendsin the Himalayas – that has given me more satisfaction than a footprint on amountain.”Jan Morris, who accompanied this expedition in 1953, later wrote these wordsthat appeared in Time Magazines 100 Most Important Peole of the Cenutry:Did it really mean much to the human race when Everest was conquered for thefirst time? Only because there became attached to the memory of theexploit, in the years that followed, a reputation for decency, kindness andstylish simplicity.