This month, the world lost one of the greatest minds in science. In lieu of our “Brand of the Month”, I wanted to post a tribute to renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, sharing some highlights of his remarkable story.
His story is one of beating the odds.
Like Hawking’s mind, his ability to live so long with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was exceptional. Most patients with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) are diagnosed after age of 50 and succumb to the disease within five years.
“I have been lucky that my condition has progressed more slowly than is often the case. But it shows that one need not lose hope.” – Stephen Hawking
Hawking was first diagnosed at age 21, and was not expected to see his 25th birthday. He lived for another 51 years, managing to shape modern cosmology and inspire audiences worldwide along the way.
Which brings us to…
His story is one of incredible resilience.
Not only did he beat the odds, his crippling disease never seemed to have slowed him down. He may have been confined to a wheelchair, required a computer system to speak, and needed around-the-clock care, however he still managed to accomplish a thing or two!
Hawking spent 30 years as a full professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge and director of research at the school’s Centre for Theoretical Cosmology. He also had at least 12 honorary degrees and was awarded the CBE in 1982 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by President Barack Obama. And let’s not forget how incredibly prolific he was. In addition to his academic publications, he authored an impressive list of books, including international best seller, A Brief History of Time.
“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” — Stephen Hawking at an Oxford University Union speech in 2016.
His story is one of great character (and what a character he was!).
Hawking was one of the most beloved scientists of our generation, not just for his intellect, but for his wit and humour. He had a knack for looking at the bright side, in spite of his daunting condition. His positive mental outlook was remarkable, and seeing the humour in life seemed to be key.
“His work distinguished him as one of the greatest physicists of our generation; his character distinguished him as one of its greatest men” –Yuri Milner, Scientific American
His story is one of always looking up… at the stars and to his inspirations.
Perhaps his remarkable outlook on life came from just that…looking out. Hawking certainly wasn’t a navel gazer; instead he showed us the importance of curiosity and outward focus.
“So remember, look at the stars and not at your feet.” — Hawking at the Sydney Opera House, 2015.
Like many great minds, he also looked to his inspirations. “Each generation stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before them, just as I did as a young PhD student in Cambridge, inspired by the work of Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein” Hawking explained.
His story is one of knowing what you stand for…and taking a stand.
Hawking is described as embodying the scientific values of courage, honesty, curiosity and rebelliousness, values that often took him beyond the bounds of academia. They led him to speak out about culture, politics and the existential risks facing humanity.
Most recently, in 2016, Hawking joined 375 “concerned” scientists in signing an open letter to (then-presidential candidate) Donald Trump. The letter cited the threat of climate change and blasted Trump for pushing for the US to leave the Paris accord. He has also spoken out against Trump’s travel ban, amongst other things…
His story is one that transcended boundaries.
From academia to pop culture, Hawking permeated our collective consciousness. He was not only a hero to mathematicians and scientists everywhere, but also a pop-culture personality, guest-starring as himself on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “The Simpsons.” His life was portrayed in the 2014 movie, “The Theory of Everything.”
“Unfortunately, Eddie [Redmayne] did not inherit my good looks.” — Hawking on the Oscar-winning actor who portrayed him in “The Theory of Everything.”
His story is one that will live on.
There’s no doubt that Hawking’s outstanding achievements and significant contributions to modern science will continue to shape the direction of science and our understanding of the universe for generations to come.
“His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake,”. “But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure.” – Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson
Perhaps Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim, said it best: “He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor inspired people across the world.”