Colleagues, friends, family and fans lined the streets of Cambridge yesterday to pay their respects to the world famous physicist Stephen Hawking, who sadly passed away two weeks ago. He had been an undergraduate at University College, Oxford, graduating with a first class degree in Natural Sciences in 1962.
Professor Hawking had long struggled with a rare form of early-onset motor neurone disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or more commonly as ALS. The disease gradually, in Prof. Hawking’s case over the course of a number of decades, paralyses all of its victim’s muscles taking away the ability to walk, speak, and eventually to breathe.
The late Oxford-born professor’s struggle against ALS drew light to the amazing work of the NHS. Most ALS sufferers don’t expect to live more than a decade or so following their diagnosis, but thanks to the work of the NHS Hawking made it through to the age of 76. Speaking back in 2009 in an interview with The Guardian the Professor said: “I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS, I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.”
Following his passing the Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev. Dr. John Hall spoke about plans to bury the scientist’s ashes in Westminster Abbey. He said: “It is entirely fitting that the remains of Prof Stephen Hawking are to be buried in the abbey, near those of distinguished fellow scientists. Sir Isaac Newton was buried in the abbey in 1727. Charles Darwin was buried beside Isaac Newton in 1882.
“Other famous scientists are buried or memorialised nearby, the most recent burials being those of atomic physicists Ernest Rutherford in 1937 and Joseph John Thomson in 1940.
“We believe it to be vital that science and religion work together to seek to answer the great questions of the mystery of life and of the universe.”
Local people, like Catherine Pritchard, reminisced at his funeral remembering his unique and undying sense of humour. Catherine, who knew Hawking back in the 80s when he would visit Heffers bookshop around the time he started to lose his voice, said: “He was such a character and he had such a sense of humour,”
She added: “He had this look in his eyes, like he had things to say. I could see that he had a power about him. It was not physical, not like someone who works with their hands. But there was a real power there.”