The flag over the late Stephen Hawking’s Cambridge University college flew at half-mast on Wednesday, as students and academics came to pay tribute after the physicist’s death.
Gonville and Caius College, where Hawking was a fellow for over 50 years, also opened a book of condolences in the chapel and placed a black-and-white picture of him on a notice board.
Hu Xiaohua, a teacher in China and a visiting scholar at the English faculty in Cambridge, cried as she looked at the image.
“I read his books and was inspired. He said never give up and he never gave up,” the 49-year-old said, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief.
She said Hawking, who was confined to a wheelchair for five decades by motor neurone disease, was one of the reasons why she moved to Cambridge and had inspired her interest in quantum physics.
“I wished I could meet him. He was the greatest scientist of the 21st century. He really meant a lot to me. I prayed for him every day. I wished he could stand up,” she told AFP.
– ‘Great sense of humour’ –
Hawking, who died Wednesday aged 76, had a study at the college which he shared with other fellows and his name is painted on the stone arch entrance and above the room’s wooden door.
“He was an amazing person,” said Edo Dzafic, 26, a molecular biology doctoral student from Slovenia who came to sign the book of condolences.
Dzafic said he “got people to think outside the box about what’s out there. It’s what we all wonder about”.
Justin Hayward, who was Hawking’s doctoral student from 1991 to 1995, said the world-famous physicist had come to his wedding in 2006.
“He was a fun person to work with and had a great sense of humour. For his students at the blackboard, sometimes a little scary,” said Hayward, who came with his wife.
In the book of condolences, Ben Stevenson wrote: “Rest in peace. An inspiration. Looking at the stars, not the floor. Thank you.”
Other mourners also expressed their hope of an afterlife for Hawking, who did not believe in it himself.
Kerem Bayraktaroglu shared a personal memory about playing the violin in front of Hawking and wrote: “I hope you will now know the true secrets of the universe”.
Diana Hayward wrote: “May you rest in peace and rise in glory. I hope you find the answers to lots of your questions”.