Mrs. Clinton meets the man responsible for her two L's

April 03, 1995|By New York Times News Service

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Hillary Rodham Clinton has practiced law, raised a daughter and tried to change the American economy by reshaping health care.

But within 24 hours she had ridden a bull elephant with Secret Service radio escort and met the man responsible for making her a Hillary with two l's.

At an airstrip in Katmandu, Nepal -- just after an overnight tiger safari and just before her departure for this poverty-ridden pocket of South Asia -- Mrs. Clinton shook hands with Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealander who conquered Mount Everest with Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

He was passing through town on his way yesterday to visit schools and a hospital in the Himalayan highlands financed by a foundation he heads.

"To be honest with you, in America, before if anybody recognized the name Hillary, it's always been me," Sir Edmund, 75, told reporters just before greeting Mrs. Clinton. "And now they say, 'Oh, you must be a lady!' "

For her part, Mrs. Clinton confessed that her mother, Dorothy Rodham, had read an article about the intrepid Edmund Hillary, a one-time beekeeper who had taken to mountain climbing, when she was pregnant with her daughter in 1947 and liked the name.

"It had two L's, which is how she thought she was supposed to spell Hillary," Mrs. Clinton told reporters after the brief meeting on the tarmac, minutes before her Air Force jet flew past the peak of Everest itself.

"So when I was born, she called me Hillary, and she always told me it's because of Sir Edmund Hillary."

Sir Edmund was to have joined Mrs. Clinton overnight at the Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge, a rustic hotel in the Royal Chitwan National Park that has played host to guests from Queen Elizabeth II to Goldie Hawn.

But mechanical problems delayed his plane from New Zealand and he barely made it in time for the airport handshake yesterday.

So he missed the sight of Mrs. Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, 15, ensconced in a padded howdah atop Shamsher Bahadur, a 9-foot, 8 1/2-inch elephant whose name means Brave Tiger, in a sunset search for a tiger in the grass on Saturday. They were trailed by three Secret Service agents -- with sunglasses, wrist walkie-talkies, earphones and all.

"Fancy meeting you all here," Mrs. Clinton called out to reporters from under a wide-brimmed straw hat as her elephant approached a river bank for a picture-taking session that had been negotiated with her reluctant staff.

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