The unique Elizabeth Hawley

Nov 9, 1923-Jan 26, 2018

Elizabeth Hawley: Nov 9, 1923 – Jan 26, 2018

The Himalayan Trust express their deep sadness at the passing of Elizabeth (Liz) Hawley. A most remarkable person who lived a long life most interestingly.

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.”

Elizabeth Hawley served as New Zealand’s Honorary Consul in Nepal for over 20 years and played a key role in the New Zealand Himalayan Trust for over five decades.  She was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for Public Services from the New Zealand government in 2004.

 Bruce Jefferies on Liz Hawley’s role in the Sagarmatha National Park Project

“Liz played a vital role in making the Sagarmatha National Park Project possible. The project operated from 1975 – 1981 with a number of New Zealand park managers living in Khumbu. The Sagarmatha National Park Project, with support from Volunteer Service Abroad, established the first forest nurseries in the National Partl. Liz’s contribution to this effort in the Khumbu are an important part of her legacy. The initiative to establish the Sagarmatha National Park actually came from Sir Ed and his wife Louise. Whenever I return to Khumbu I wonder what the area would be like if this idea had not taken off – and it couldn’t have happened without Liz’s support.”

Mike Gill on Liz, Death, and Funerals

In December 1989 Linda and I spent a memorable evening (and night) with Liz and Death in her living room / office in Dilli Bazar, Kathmandu. We had just arrived from New Zealand and as always went upstairs to deliver a bottle of Black Label Johnny Walker whisky.

“Come and see my mother,” said Liz. “She’s in the back room and she’s dying.”

It was not an understatement. On the bed, in a deep coma, was a very old woman so thin that her body seemed to be following the irregularities in the underlying mattress.

“Let’s drink some of that whisky,” said Liz.

We’d never known her as someone who showed emotion or needed to talk to other people but that evening and night were different. By the early hours the whisky was finished. The next morning Liz’s mother was dead and Liz was back to her efficient no-nonsense self.

Liz didn’t like to make a fuss.

Lindsay Strang on Liz’s scoop as a news correspondent in 1973

Liz got a scoop on the first successful winter climb of Mt Everest by a Japanese expedition. Liz enlisted the help of a local contact in the Khumbu to intercept the Japanese mail-runner carrying the news from the mountain. He did it – and leaving the Japanese mail-runner in a bar with a few drinks, raced down to Khunde with the news that was then wired in code to Liz. The Japanese Liaison Officer couldn’t understand how their mail-runner arrived with the news after it had been announced by the BBC!

When Liz recalled the event to Bernadette McDonald she said: “The Japanese expedition had a mail-runner too, but my guy was faster. We got that story! The other reporters complained. I got chastised. I was naughty!”

Liz was unique.

Elizabeth Hawley – born November 9, 1923, in Chicago, USA, died January 26, 2018, Kathmandu, Nepal.


Keeper of the Mountains: The Elizabeth Hawley Story By Bernadette McDonald
Himalayan Hospitals by Mike Gill
The Nepal Scene: Chronicles of Elizabeth Hawley, 1988-2007

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