Farewell to local hero
Hastings Boys’ High School is likely to permanently commemorate possibly its most famous pupil who has died in England – Everest-conquering expedition climber George Lowe.
School principal Robert Sturch, who last night conceded he’d never heard of George Lowe until he arrived at the school in 2002 and was introduced to the former head prefect returning as guest speaker for its centennial, said the death was marked with a minute’s silence at an assembly yesterday.
But “without a doubt” there would be something to mark the life of a man for whom he said there could be few better examples of “courage and commitment”.
As the school of 771 boys was told of the death there was a mixture of acclaim and disbelief – the latter mainly from younger students previously unaware of the school’s links to the 1953 conquering of Mt Everest, and the role of a former pupil often referred to as the “forgotten” man of the expedition.
He was the man to whom Sir Edmund Hillary about 11.30am on May 29, 1953, announced the conquering of Mt Everest with one of the most famous lines of the 20th century: “Well, we knocked the bastard off.”
On behalf of the school, Mr Sturch has passed on condolences to bereaved family members in England where Mr Lowe died in a nursing home, aged 89.
He was born Wallace George Lowe in Hastings on January 15, 1924, one of eight children. His parents were Archie and Teenie Lowe, who operated an orchard off Maraekakaho Rd, Stortford Lodge. Lowe St is named after Archie Lowe, who was a Hastings Borough Council member from 1938-41.
George went to Hastings West School, now known as Raureka, and from 1938-43 was at the then-Hastings High School, where he played lock in the first XV rugby team. An arm injury at the age of nine proved little impediment as he grew up, delivering papers and milk on his bike, and he developed an interest in tramping.
After two years at Wellington Teachers’ Training College he returned to Hastings where he taught at Parkvale School, from where he would leave for the Everest expedition – returning to a parade in Heretaunga St.
Moving to England, he made a point of returning to Hawke’s Bay for some time at least once a year, often visiting his old school, and on one visit, in 2004, was accorded Freedom of the City in an investiture by Mayor Lawrence Yule.
Until his death he was the last surviving climber from the team that helped establish the final camp 300m below the Everest summit the day before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the peak.
Sir Ed’s son, Peter, yesterday remembered Mr Lowe as a talented man who shared his father’s passions for climbing and helping others.
Mr Lowe had contributed to the mountaineering community in New Zealand and overseas, including the education of people living near Mt Everest in the Himalayas. Those people were “were real priorities for George”, he told Radio New Zealand.
“That’s perhaps one of the really significant thing about today losing George. It just is another stamp of how important this New Zealand connection with Mt Everest is,” he said.
He referred to the Mt Everest climbs involving his father and Mr Lowe and their later work building the schools and hospitals. “It’s been a long New Zealand involvement with the highest mountain on the planet.”
Caption – THE LAST: Former Hastings man George Lowe, pictured back in Hawke’s Bay, grieving after Sir Edmund Hillary died in 2004.
Caption – HIMALAYAS CALLING: George Lowe (left) and Edmund Hillary relax at camp near the Lhotse Face, during their 1953 Everest Expedition.
Caption – FREE MAN: George Lowe and Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule in 2004, as Mr Lowe was conferred with Freedom of the City.