(CNN) -- Prime Minister Helen Clark said today that the passing of Sir Edmund Hillary is a profound loss to New Zealand.
Clark: His lifetime's humanitarian work is of huge significance and lasting benefit.
"My thoughts are with Lady Hillary, Sir Edmund's children, wider family, and close friends at this sad time," Helen Clark said.
"Sir Ed described himself as an average New Zealander with modest abilities. In reality, he was a colossus. He was an heroic figure who not only 'knocked off' Everest but lived a life of determination, humility, and generosity.
"The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived. But most of all he was a quintessential Kiwi. He was ours - from his craggy appearance and laconic style to his directness and honesty. All New Zealanders will deeply mourn his passing.
"Sir Ed's 1953 ascent of Mt Everest brought him world-wide fame. Thereafter he set out to support development for the Sherpa people of the Himalayas. His lifetime's humanitarian work there is of huge significance and lasting benefit.
"Sir Ed was not one to bask idly in celebrity. He drew on his international prestige to highlight issues and values which he held dear. His enduring commitment to and respect for the Sherpa people reflects the best of what we as New Zealanders can contribute, from our small developed nation helping another less privileged one.
"Sir Edmund established the Himalayan Trust in the early 1960s and worked tirelessly until his death to raise funds and build schools and hospitals in the mountains.
"The legacy of Sir Edmund Hillary will live on. His exploits continue to inspire new generations of New Zealanders, as they have for more than half a century already," Helen Clark said. E-mail to a friend