Stephen Hawking, who died this week at age 76, was a brilliant scientist. But unlike most scientists whose names, sadly, remain unknown outside academia, Hawking, a theoretical physicist, inspired people around the globe, many of whom had no background in or even an interest in science.

Hawking was a frequent, and humorous, guest on talk shows. He appeared in “The Simpsons,” “The Big Bang Theory” and a Pink Floyd song. Actor Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar in 2015 for his portrayal of Hawking in the movie, “The Theory of Everything.”

We were intrigued by Hawking’s boundless mind, which prompted him to ask questions ranging from the seemingly simple to the astoundingly complex. We were charmed by his friendly, open personality and sense of humor. And we were inspired that he outlived his grim prognosis after being diagnosed with ALS at 21 and showed that a physical disability could not slow a brilliant, and busy, mind.

[Stephen Hawking, physicist who came to symbolize the power of the human mind, dies at 76]

It was significant to Barbara Schneider, the executive director of Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation, that Hawking died during the 2018 Paralympics, a quadrennial gathering of the world’s best athletes, including Ruslan Reiter of Manchester, a cross-country skier. “Athletes with disabilities shouldn’t be viewed as inspirations or heroes, who achieve things ‘in spite’ of their disability, but as people who achieve things because of who they are and the physical and character gifts they have, as Hawking did with his mind,” she said.

When he was no longer able to write out equations, Hawking turned to deeper, broader questions that came to define his career as a physicist at Cambridge University. His unexpected findings about black holes intrigued people outside the scientific community, says University of Maine physics and astronomy professor Neil Comins, who gave the first presentation of his findings during his Ph.D. studies to Hawking and his team in the 1970s.

Comins, who has published numerous books, said he learned from Hawking’s popular book, “A Brief History of Time,” to make scientific concepts more understandable and approachable in his own writing.

Hawking popularized science while challenging all of us to ask questions and search tirelessly for the answers, not just about the universe but about life in general. He challenged us to be better people, for our own sake and for the sake of others and our planet.

Here is Hawking’s advice to his three children, as related to ABC News’ Diane Sawyer in a 2010 interview: “One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it,” he said.

“Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”

[Stephen Hawking’s secret to surviving his terrible condition? A sense of humor]

Hawking, who spoke through a computer voice synthesizer, was a powerful voice for reason and dialog to solve problems, big and small.

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination,” Hawking says in a 1993 commercial for BT, a British telecommunications company. “We learned to talk and we learned to listen. … Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking.”

“Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future,” he continued. “All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

Despite fears about the future of humanity, Hawking remained an optimist. In a 2016 speech at Oxford University, he warned that humans must find a way to leave Earth before it is destroyed, by climate change, robots and nuclear weapons.

He then dispensed this advice: “Try to make sense of what you see, wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

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