The news that Sir Edmund Hillary had died of a heart attack at the age of 88 on Thursday in New Zealand didn’t particularly come as a shock to me—I’d been afraid of hearing the news since reading of his failing health over the past few years. But it did bring back a vivid memory. Reading the tributes (a few found here), I remembered a surreal afternoon about eight years ago when I sat up bolt-straight in a wooden chair, and, over a phone line, heard his voice crackle through the earpiece. “Ed Hillary,” he said. I nearly froze.