On behalf of all at the Himalayan Trust UK we would like to express both our profound sadness at the death of Elizabeth as well as our deep admiration for the life that she led. All of us who came to know and respect this remarkable woman understand very clearly how she became a legend to those who climbed in the Himalayas as well as to those who supported the causes benefiting the people who lived there.
We will miss her independent mind, her spirit, and her company.
Elizabeth Hawley left her home in the United States to work as a journalist in Kathmandu in 1960, at a time when Nepal had only just opened its doors to foreigners. As a reporter covering stories on the royal family, politics, and the mountaineering expeditions, Elizabeth quickly became part of the Kathmandu scene, socialising with expats, diplomats, business leaders and royals. Kathmandu remained her home for the rest of her years.
Although having never ventured to Everest Base Camp, Elizabeth became an important figure in Himalayan climbing. She reported on the mountaineering expeditions whose life and death dramas made such good stories and it became custom of expedition leaders to pay her a visit and discuss their plans, and later, if they were successful – and only if they were successful – to report on their climb.
Elizabeth would eventually become celebrated as the unofficial chronicler of Himalayan expedition climbing. Through the Himalayan Database, she has logged the ascents of all major peaks within Nepal. She made firm friends with many of the most famous climbers, including Messner, Bonington, Humar, Viesturs, and of course, Ed Hillary.
After Ed officially formed the Himalayan Trust in 1966, he realised he needed a representative in Kathmandu. Elizabeth was exactly the right person. She knew her way around Nepalese government departments and she successfully negotiated and secured the various permits and agreements Ed needed for his projects building schools and hospitals.
“When I established the Himalayan Trust and started building schools and hospitals for the people in the mountains, Elizabeth Hawley became a god-send to us,” explained Ed. “She was our executive officer and supervised our programmes and finances with remarkable common-sense and wisdom. Our Sherpa staff admired and respected her, as we did, and they worked together as a most respected team.”
Elizabeth had huge respect and affection for Ed and his vision for the Himalayan Trust. She went on to develop strong relationship and respect for all those associated with the work of the Himalayan Trust, whether they were Sherpas, Nepalis, New Zealanders or North American volunteers.
Elizabeth became the first point of contact for most of the Himalayan Trust volunteers arriving in Nepal – and the link between the hospitals and their supplies in Kathmandu. Dealing with Elizabeth became part of the mythology of Kunde hospital, and every volunteer has their own story. Fierce was often the most common adjective used, but as John McKinnon, the first volunteer doctor at Kunde hospital said: “You needed to be precise and straight and really decisive with Liz – then she was great.”
In 2014 the government of Nepal even named a peak after her in recognition of her contribution to the mountaineering industry—but Elizabeth was far from impressed. “I thought it was just a joke. It should be a joke. Mountains should not be named after people.”
Liz was unique and we will miss her.
For more information about her life, see Himalayan Trust New Zealand’s site