Wednesday 16 January 2019

Cambridge pays last tribute to genius of Hawking

Mourners: The casket containing Professor Stephen Hawking is carried into the church in Cambridge. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA
Mourners: The casket containing Professor Stephen Hawking is carried into the church in Cambridge. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA

Henry Nichols

Well-wishers filled the streets of Cambridge yesterday for the funeral of physicist Stephen Hawking, hailed by another leading scientist as "an imprisoned mind roaming the cosmos".

Hawking, crippled since a young man by a degenerative disease, beat the odds stacked against him to became the most celebrated scientist of his era. His work ranged from the origins of the universe itself, through time travel and probing black holes in space.

He achieved international renown after the 1988 publication of A Brief History of Time.

His coffin was topped with white lilies and roses and carried by pallbearers from the University of Cambridge, where he worked. The 76-year-old scientist was mourned by his children Robert, Lucy and Timothy, joined by guests including playwright Alan Bennett, businessman Elon Musk, model Lily Cole and broadcaster Dara O Briain.

Actor Eddie Redmayne, who played Hawking in the film The Theory of Everything, was one of the readers and Felicity Jones, who played his wife Jane Hawking in the film, also attended the service.

The ceremony included space-themed music composed specially for Hawking called Beyond the Night Sky, and quotes from A Brief History of Time and whistling and "shh" sounds based on recordings of space. Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, read from Plato's Apology 40, "The Death of Socrates", which talks of the search for knowledge persisting after death.

Confined to a wheelchair after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease when he was 21, Hawking's intellect and sheer persistence struck a chord with ordinary people, Rees said in an appreciation published earlier this month.

"Why did he become such a 'cult figure'? The concept of an imprisoned mind roaming the cosmos plainly grabbed people's imagination," he said.

"His name will live in the annals of science; millions have had their cosmic horizons widened by his books; and even more, around the world, have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds."

Hawking's ashes will be interred at Westminster Abbey in June, alongside scientists such as Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

Sunday Independent

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