Remember to look at the stars . . .

The late Professor Stephen Hawking.
The late Professor Stephen Hawking.
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Mum’s Gone To... blogger TRISH BURGESS remembers Stephen Hawking - and her late father, a fellow MND sufferer

Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

This quote from Professor Stephen Hawking was the first thing I read on the morning I learned the eminent theoretical physicist had died.

Whilst many people were inspired by his academic work, battling their way through his bestselling book, A Brief History of Time, for me it was his attitude towards his disability which had the most impact on my life.

In 1994, my father was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and, like Hawking, was told he probably only had a couple of years to live. My dad was about to turn 60, looking forward to his retirement. It was a huge blow.

My dad, however, had a positive outlook. With my mum’s incredible support, he remained upbeat, despite the disease gradually taking away his independence.

He looked to Stephen Hawking, a fellow sufferer, and took solace from the fact that here was a man who was able to accomplish so much, adapting his life as MND stripped each muscle of its power.

There was an affinity with Professor Hawking. They were both educated at Cambridge University, Hawking as a post-graduate. If Hawking could write books about the universe and communicate with his synthesised voice, then maybe my dad could tackle his own limitations with similar tenacity.

It was art that became my dad’s saviour. An architect by profession, he began to draw for pleasure. He produced the most intricate artwork, using pen and ink, charcoal and watercolours. I have a treasured charcoal composition of Emmanuel College, the institution where my father studied and where I followed in his footsteps 30 years later.

As his fingers became weaker, it became harder for my dad to hold a brush or a pen. He would support his right hand with his left and Mum would help him to dip the brush into the paints.

Every Wednesday, my dad would attend St Oswald’s Hospice in Newcastle for respite care. Here he encouraged other patients to draw and paint, taking the role of teacher and inspiring them to create beautiful artwork.

Unlike most patients diagnosed with MND, my father, like Hawking, defied the odds and lived longer than expected. He died in 2011, aged 76, the same age that Stephen Hawking also succumbed to the disease.

Hawking once said: “My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.”

Whilst the world thanks Professor Hawking for his contribution to our knowledge of the universe, I express my gratitude to him for being a beacon of hope for my father.

You can read Trish’s blog at


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