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Remembering Stephen Hawking

A piece from our co-editor, Michaela Hollywood:

Today, many of those in the disabled community have lost their hero from this Earth.

Professor Stephen Hawking was 76 years old, and was diagnosed with motor neurone disease 54 years ago – at which time he was given 2 years to live.

As someone with an intense interest in the science of our world and bodies, you could be forgiven for thinking that I found his mere survival inspiring. I do not – because I know so many who survive just as he did.

Professor Hawking has sought to explain some of the most difficult questions we have about the universe. He also has brought great joy to many through his appearances on television shows like The Simpsons or Comic Relief. He was one not to shy away from making people laugh.

His books and theories propelled the worlds of physics and mathematics into a new era. As his motor neurone disease progressed, he worked out long difficult calculations in his head – and that’s understating the complexity of these calculations.

Physics was never my strong point, but I know that his discoveries are ground-breaking. Professor Hawking will be a world renowned scientist that will be part of our history books on his science alone. But of course his story adds another dimension.

Many people have been expressing their favourite quotes, discoveries and memories that Stephen Hawking brought them. Sadly, many are diminishing his status as a disabled person – which he most certainly identified with.

Professor Stephen Hawking achieved all he has throughout his life not because, but also not in spite of his disability. He said that motor neurone disease was the only bad luck he’s had. But his steadfast campaigns for disability rights, for free healthcare for all and his kind human spirit shows us that he was human. And at times, a disabled human.

Professor Hawking was a pioneer in many senses. He was profoundly open about his life in many ways. A fellow at Cambridge right up until his death, his quest to answer the most profound questions the universe poses was never ending. Equally, he gave an insight into living a life on a ventilator and communicating using a muscle under his eyes to relay signals to a computer.

His wheelchair has moved things forward for people like me. His communication software has moved things forward for people like me. I am thankful for all Professor Hawking has done to make my life – and those like me – better in the future. There is very little I can do to thank him, other than work to ensure the light he brought to the world does not go out.

I share a few things in common with this esteemed man. Not least that my condition and his are so similar and the other obvious things. What is probably the funniest is that he and I both have a strong belief that aliens exist.

My nephew is 12 years old. When The Theory of Everything was released, his mind expanded. He won a prize for a presentation on Professor Hawking in school just a few months ago. It’s clear that Professor Hawking was as much a role model to him as he is to me.

I am so lucky to have lived in a time when Professor Hawking did too. He’s a wonderful, fantastic man who brought great joy and great knowledge to our planet.

I have three lasting images of Professor Hawking.

  • The twinkle in his eye when it was time to start joking.

  • Robot Hawking in Comic Relief (we all want that wheelchair!)