There are few scientists in the world more famous than Stephen Hawking. Known for his work with black holes and relativity, he became famous practically overnight after releasing his popular science book A Brief History of Time. Hawking spent many happy years with his wife, Jane, whom he was married to for 30 years, welcoming two sons and one daughter.
Sadly, Hawking passed away in 2018 having lived for decades with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Today, his family are doing their best to protect his legacy and continue to share his knowledge with the world. Stephen’s daughter, Lucy Hawking, has a particularly important role in this effort.
Lucy was born in 1969, and today works a lot with her father’s foundation. Like Stephen, Lucy wants to enable others to explore science, especially children.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the only daughter of Stephen Hawking!
Stephen Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, in Oxford, England. The eldest of four children of Frank and Isobel Hawking, his birthday was actually on the 300th anniversary of Galileo Gallilei’s – ironically an astronomer and physicist himself – passing.
Both Stephen’s parents were Oxford graduates, and their son would go on to become one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. When he was young, however, his intelligence wasn’t heralded by all. As per reports, Hawking was actually third from bottom in his class, but as a teenager, he got the nickname “Einstein” from his classmates. Ultimately, it became evident that he was very talented – and by the time he was approaching his last two years of school, Stephen became very interested in mathematics. Sadly, his father was not happy about it.
Stephen Hawking – early life
“He thought there wouldn’t be any jobs for mathematicians except as teachers. He made me do the chemistry and only a small amount of mathematics. I’m now a professor of mathematics, but I have not had any formal instruction in mathematics since I left St Albans school aged 17,” Hawking said in 2013.
The same year as he left St Albans, Hawking took the next step on his journey towards becoming a science legend. He won a scholarship to Oxford to study physics, and he calculated that over the three years he was there, he put in around 1000 hours of work (about an hour a day).
Stephen wasn’t the best student, but that all changed when he was diagnosed with ALS.
“When you are faced with the possibility of an early death, it makes you realize that life is worth living and that there are lots of things you want to do,” Hawking explained.
“In my last year at Oxford, I noticed I was getting increasingly clumsy. I went to the doctor after falling down some stairs, but all he said was, ‘Lay off the beer’”
But it wasn’t drinking that was the problem. Hawking moved back to Cambridge, but at Christmas, he fell while out skating on a lake and found he couldn’t get up. His mother urged him to go to the hospital, and shortly after his 21st birthday, he underwent various tests over a two week period.
Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with ALS
“They took a muscle sample from my arm, stuck electrodes into me, and then injected some radio-opaque fluid into my spine and with X-rays watched it go up and down as they tilted the bed. After all that, they didn’t tell me what I had, except that it was not multiple sclerosis and that I was an atypical case,” he recalled.
“I gathered, however, that they expected it to get worse, and there was nothing they could do except give me vitamins, though I could see they didn’t expect them to have much effect. I didn’t ask for more details because they obviously had nothing good to tell me.”
Hawking’s life was changed forever when, aged 21, was diagnosed with ALS, more commonly known in the US as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The nerves controlling his muscles were slowly shutting down – doctors only gave him about two and a half years to live. Yet, though his speech was becoming increasingly slurred, he resolved to not let that bring him down.
In 1985, Hawking lost the ability to speak. At that point he needed 24-hour care, but could communicate through a hand-held clicker, as his fingers were still functioning.
Later, an expert would develop a whole new system that completely changed his ability to communicate.
“A computer expert in California named Walt Woltosz heard of my plight and sent me a program he’d written called Equalizer. This allowed me to select words from a series of menus on the screen by pressing a switch in my hand. I now use another of his programs, called Words+, which I control by a small sensor on my glasses that responds to my cheek movement,” Stephen explained.
‘A Brief History of Time’
He added: “When I have built up what I want to say, I can send it to a speech synthesizer. One’s voice is very important. If you have a slurred voice, people are likely to treat you as mentally deficient. This synthesizer was by far the best I’d heard because it varies the intonation and didn’t speak like a Dalek from Doctor Who.”
Throughout his life, Hawking became a celebrity for his extensive work. It began when he proved that black holes aren’t the information vacuums that scientists had thought they were, and in 1988, he released his world-famous book, A Brief History of Time. It gave an overview of space and time, as well as the future and the existence of God – and it was a significant success.
The book spent four years at the top of the Sunday Times best-seller list. Since its publication, it has been translated into more than 40 languages, selling millions of copies worldwide.
In total, Stephen Hawking wrote or co-wrote a total of 15 books.
Although Hawking’s days were greatly complicated by his condition, he lived a very long and happy life. In the background, his family was essential, and today, one of his children has published several books on science as well.
Stephen met his first wife, Jane Wilde, at a party in 1963. They married two years later and had three children. Robert was born in 1967, their daughter Lucy in 1970, and their third, Timothy, arrived in 1979.
Stephen Hawking – family, wife, children
“When I was young, he wasn’t the world’s most famous physicist,” Lucy Hawking told Today in 2007.
“The fame didn’t arrive until the publication of “A Brief History of Time,” by which time I was in my late teens. When I was a child, he was well known among physicists, but they are a fairly select, serious bunch, not much given to celebrity idolizing.”
She added: “What was most striking was the high level of attention his electric wheelchair attracted. I suppose that in the 1970s, it was quite unusual to see a disabled person drive himself around in a wheelchair. People really did stop and stare. (He did drive his chair extremely fast and sometimes in a rather perilous fashion.) I’m so glad that these days, disabled access is so much better and that disabled people are treated with more dignity by the general public.”
From an early age, Lucy Hawking never considered following in her father’s footsteps. Instead, she wanted to work with something creative and artistic – becoming a ballerina was her dream.
“I think my dad would have been pleased if I had turned out a scientist because he truly believes that is the most interesting career open to anyone. But he also believes that you have to follow your own path in life, and so he certainly wasn’t going to push me toward theoretical physics when it didn’t look like I was going in that direction naturally,” she said.
When Stephen spent a research year at CalTech in California, Lucy, her siblings, and her mother moved with him. She started school in Pasadena, California, before the family settled in Cambridge upon moving back to the UK.
Lucy, it turned out, was just like her father: exceptionally bright.
Who is Stephen Hawking’s daughter, Lucy Hawking?
She studied French and Russian, but as mentioned, it was the more creative subjects that were her real passion. Lucy studied theater and even played in a local band. She went on to study Russian and French at University College in Oxford. She even moved to Moscow for a year in 1992.
But though becoming a ballerina or professional musician might have been two early dreams Lucy Hawking had, writing was her call.
She returned to the UK to shape her journalism skills at City University, London. Lucy went on to write for several newspapers in both the UK and the US – but her most rewarding project must have been when she became an author. Along with her father, Stephen Hawking, the daughter-father duo co-wrote a children’s book.
Lucy and her father wanted to create an adventure story for children. Their aim was that it would be based on scientific facts rather than science fiction. Lucy handled the writing, while Stephen created the storyline from true-life-event details based on physics.
In 2007, the first book, George’s Secret Key to the Universe, was released. It revolves around George, who learns about the universe by traveling around and exploring it.
“I have a 9-year–old son, and I thought it would be wonderful if my father and I could write something together that would explain my grandfather’s work to my son. To explain physics to kids, we decided to use the events in the story to illustrate concepts,” Lucy told Today before the book’s release.
“It was a fascinating process. Working with my father was a great thrill — he has the amazing ability to hold enormous amounts of information in his head, but also to pick out relevant details and make brief comments, which can completely transform your way of thinking,” she added.
“My father is an expert when it comes to framing difficult subjects in accessible language. He was an absolute pleasure to work with, and I felt very honored to have this opportunity.”
Lucy Hawking – author, journalist
Stephen and Lucy didn’t stop at one book. Five more were released: George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt in 2009, George and the Big Bang in 2011, George and the Unbreakable Code in 2014, George and the Blue Moon in 2016, and George and the Ship of Time in 2018.
Lucy Hawking saw her parents divorce in 1990 when Stephen left her mother for one of his nurses, Elaine Mason. They married in 1995. However, his children felt that she was keeping their father from them, which strained Lucy and her siblings’ relationship with their stepmother.
The couple divorced in 2006.
Lucy has become a well-renowned author in her own right, releasing several children books and two novels. In 2014, the Hawking family saw Stephen’s life turned into a Hollywood film with the release of The Theory of Everything. The film’s leading star, Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed Stephen, won an Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. The film itself won more than 20 other awards.
For Lucy, the film was fantastic. Since childhood, she had dreams about her father regaining the full use of his legs. So watching the movie where her vision was brought to life was astounding.
“There’s a bit towards the very end of The Theory Of Everything where my father goes into a dream world and stands up and walks,’ she explains. ‘It’s exactly like a dream I have, which was astonishing to watch, because I’ve never actually seen him stand up,” she said.
Stephen Hawking passed away on March 14, 2018, in his home in Cambridge, at age 76. Like many other notable scientists, including Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, Hawking’s ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey.
“He always said that your legacy was in your children”
Of course, it was an enormous tragedy for the family. Even so, the fact that he lived so long – despite doctors only giving him two years back in the 1970s – was remarkable.
For the Hawking family, it was a horrible thing to go through. While appearing on Good Morning Britain, Lucy spoke about the sad passing of her father, describing how she and her sibling felt that h would “last forever.”
“Even though with someone who has been ill for a very long time, you wouldn’t think that their death could shock you, but it did,” Lucy Hawking said.
She added: “He always said that your legacy was in your children and in the work you left behind.”
“And so I think it’s very, very important that we take the elements of the work he did, which lies in his work in cosmology and physics, but also in his outreach in his work in education, his advocacy for the NHS and for disability rights. And we carry that on.”
Stephen Hawking will forever be remembered as one of the most influential people in modern history. And we are so happy to see how Lucy and the rest of her family are keeping his legacy alive.