Cambridge says goodbye to Professor Stephen Hawking
Eddie Redmayne, Brian May, Dara O'Briain and Charlotte Hawkins among the guests as his funeral takes place at Great St Mary's Church
A large crowd gathered in central Cambridge for the funeral of Professor Stephen Hawking.
The world-famous theoretical physicist, whose work has inspired millions, died at his home in Cambridge on March 14, 2018, aged 76.
His funeral took place at Great St Mary’s, the University of Cambridge church, close to the college where he was a fellow, Gonville & Caius.
Among the 500 joining his family at the funeral was Eddie Redmayne, the actor who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Prof Hawking in the film A Theory of Everything. Redmayne gave a reading at the funeral.
Also attending was Felicity Jones, the actress who played Prof Hawking’s first wife, Jane Hawking, in the film.
Queen guitarist Brian May, model Lily Cole, who attended the University of Cambridge, and TV presenter Dara O’Briain, who hosted a documentary on Prof Hawking, were also among the guests.
So was Charlotte Hawkins, the co-host of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Classic FM presenter and former Sky News anchor who appeared on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing last year. She was there as patron of the MND Association, a charity dedicated to fighting motor neurone disease, a disease that claimed her father’s life and which Prof Hawking was diagnosed with at 21 years old - when he was given two years to live. Redmayne is also a patron of the charity.
Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees spoke at the service and the choir of Gonville & Caius performed a piece of music written for Prof Hawking on his 75th birthday by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, called Beyond the Night Sky.
The flags of Gonville & Caius and Trinity Hall in Cambridge, as well as those at University College, Oxford, flew at half-mast for the day.
The floral arrangement on Prof Hawking͛s coffin was made up of white lilies (‘Universe”) and white roses (͞Polar Star”). It was from his three children, Lucy, Robert and Tim.
Robert delivered the first euology.
Fay Dowker, professor of theoretical physics at Imperial College London whose PhD was supervised by Prof Hawking, gave the second eulogy.
It read: “Stephen Hawking was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, Fellow of the Royal Society, Companion of Honour and recipient of the United States’ Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“These, and many many other prizes, awards and honours, indicate the scale and significance of Stephen’s achievements but they don’t capture what I can only call the magic that occurred around him.
“In the introduction to “A Brief History of Time”, Carl Sagan describes being at a meeting at the Royal Society in London in 1974, on the search for extraterrestrial life.
“Sagan writes: ‘During the coffee break, I noticed that a much larger meeting was being held in an adjacent hall and out of curiosity I entered. I soon realised that I was witnessing an ancient rite, the investiture of new Fellows into the Royal Society, one of the most ancient scholarly organisations on the planet. In the front row a young man in a wheelchair was, very slowly, signing his name in a book that bore on its earliest pages the signature of Issac Newton. When at last he finished, there was a stirring ovation. Stephen Hawking was a legend even then.’
“For the most famous science communicator of his day, Sagan, to stumble upon Stephen’s Royal Society admission, so he could write about it fourteen years later in the introduction to Stephen’s book, the most famous popular science book of all time, is an example of the sort of thing that happened around Stephen all the time.
“Stephen was a cosmologist: he set his mind to understand nothing less than the whole universe. Stephen’s work has influenced a huge range of contemporary research programmes, from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory — LIGO — to quantum field theory and quantum gravity.
“The epic breadth of Stephen’s scientific work is bound together by one fundamental concept: spacetime.
“Stephen used Einstein’s theory of spacetime and gravity to prove that in the past, there was a moment, the Big Bang, when that theory must break down. Stephen therefore taught us that to understand the origin of our Universe, we need a deeper understanding of spacetime, and he made major contributions in the pursuit of such a deeper theory of quantum cosmology.
“Stephen’s most celebrated work is his discovery that black holes emit quantum, thermal radiation, named Hawking radiation after him. This brilliant, creative, transformative discovery means that black holes — objects made of pure spacetime — obey the same laws of thermodynamics that govern chemical reactions and steam engines.
“This unification of areas of physics that had previously been thought of as separate, is the mark of a great advance in science and contemplating Stephen’s work, brings a joyous sense of the subtlety of nature, and a vision of a deeper unity yet to come.
“Stephen shared his work and his zest for the fundamental questions it addressed with wide audiences.
“He inspired people with the excitement and importance of pure scientific enquiry and was admired and revered for his devotion, as a scholar, to the pursuit of knowledge. This high regard was demonstrated wherever in the world he gave a public lecture: the auditorium was always packed, the atmosphere electric and the applause thunderous.
“Stephen will also be remembered and honoured for taking action on social issues.
“He championed the human rights of disabled people. When speaking to a UNESCO conference on Information and Communication Technologies in 2014, he stated that all disabled people should have access to the technology they need to enable them to communicate, as he did. Stephen was a powerful advocate for the National Health Service.
“In August last year he spoke at a conference, at the Royal Society of Medicine, on the future of the NHS, weaving together the story of his life, family, science and his experience of the NHS, presenting these as bound inextricably together. Stephen’s powerful, moral and scientific arguments for a publicly provided, universal, comprehensive Health Service moved many in his audience that day to tears and have greatly strengthened the campaign to save what he called ‘Our Finest Public Service.’
“Stephen was my teacher, mentor and friend. I, like many who knew and loved him, had come to think of him as immortal and our sorrow is tinged with a feeling of disbelief that he is no longer here.
“But his influence and legacy will live forever. Robert, Lucy, Tim, members of the Hawking family, friends and carers of Stephen: it has been said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice’. Stephen, in his life, worked to make it so. We can also say, ‘The arc of the history of science is long but it bends towards unity’. Stephen’s place in that great history is eternal.”
Eddie Redmayne will read the following text from Ecclesiastes 3.1-11:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace. What gain has the worker from his toil?
I have seen the business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with.
He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind.”
Lord Martin Rees, a fellow of Trinity College, read the following text from The death of Socrates, from Plato’s Apology 40, translated by Richard Jebb:
Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good; for one of two things — either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another.
Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain.
For if a person were to select the night in which his sleep was undisturbed even by dreams, and were to compare with this the other days and nights of his life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights he had passed in the course of his life better and more pleasantly than this one, I think that any man, I will not say a private man, but even the great king will not find many such days or nights, when compared with the others.
Now if death be of such a nature, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night.
But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead abide, what good, O my friends and judges, can be greater than this?...
What would not a man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer?
Nay, if this be true, let me die again and again...
Above all, I shall then be able to continue my search into true and false knowledge; as in this world, so also in the next.
A service at Westminster Abbey will follow later in the year, and Prof Hawking’s ashes will be interred near the grave of other great scientists, such as Sir Isaac Newton.
More by this authorPaul Brackley