Memories of Professor Stephen Hawking, 1942-2018

by Clifford Will, Editor-in-Chief, Classical and Quantum Gravity

The gravitational physics community, indeed the whole world, mourns the passing on Wednesday 14th March, 2018, of Stephen Hawking at the age of 76. The Editor, Board and staff of CQG offer their heartfelt condolences to Stephen’s family. There are already numerous extended obituaries of Stephen, and I won’t attempt one here (see for example the fine obituaries by Dennis Overbye in the New York Times and by Roger Penrose in the Guardian).

I will, however, offer two personal remembrances of Stephen that I hope will illustrate his humorous side. In 1972, I was a student at the famous Les Houches Summer School on black holes, where Stephen, Brandon Carter and Jim Bardeen lectured and wrote the seminal paper “The Four Laws of Black Hole Mechanics”, that suggested a formal analogy with the laws of thermodynamics. This was soon followed by papers by Jacob Bekenstein and by Stephen that made this more than an analogy. But one of the things I most remember about the school was the awe-struck look on my eight-year-old daughter Betsy’s face watching Stephen in his wheelchair demonstrating how he could wiggle his ears like Dumbo the elephant.

The second remembrance was a visit to Cambridge in 1978, where Stephen had asked me to give a colloquium on tests of GR and invited me and my wife to join him and Jane at “high table” dinner at his college, Gonville and Caius. I showed up in a psychedelic paisley shirt with ridiculously wide collars, baby blue flared jeans, and high-heeled boots (think John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”, but with hippie length hair). This was attire totally inappropriate for high table (hey, this was the 70s and was the best I had in my suitcase), but Stephen was delighted to have somebody there who made the stuffy and decorum-obsessed masters of the college more uncomfortable than he did. And when, during the ritual passing of the after-dinner liqueurs along the table, the college master chided me sternly for allowing the port to precede the claret, I thought Stephen was going slide out of his wheelchair, hysterical with laughter.

We have lost a remarkable scientist and a unique human being.

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