One of the aspects of Stephen Hawking’s life that leapt out from the pages of his wife Jane’s original autobiography was that he (and his intellectually snobbish family) scoffed rather heartlessly at Jane’s Christian faith. Yet Jane lived out her faith values by loving and caring for her husband as his health declined. They had children, but divorce eventually occurred, and Prof Hawking married his nurse, a younger woman.

This second marriage was also dissolved, and at the end of his life – a heroic one, for sure – Jane and their children remained loyal to him. She said she never regretted the marriage for a moment, showing perfect grace.

Hawking measured everything by the material world, so he wouldn’t perhaps be on the wavelength of faith. Yet it could still be said that the Lord gave Hawking a great purpose. Yes, there were the amazing accomplishments in physics and cosmology, but there was also the shining example that he represented to disabled people everywhere.

By his living witness, he demonstrated that a person can be seriously disabled – even to the point where he loses his own voice – and yet deserve every respect, and be given every opportunity of fulfilment.

People who need wheelchairs, or are disabled in other ways, have always had many obstacles to overcome – and the greatest obstacle has often been other people’s attitudes, be it of prejudice or condescension. By his accomplishments – and celebrity – Hawking was their champion. One of his axioms was “Never give up!” – a source of encouragement and affirmation of the gift of life. No doubt it played some part in his reaching the age of 74, when he was predicted to die aged 21.

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