A gentle giant has passed from us. On June 14 a memorial service was held for the eminent Stanford professor emeritus, Stig Hagström. The service was held in the stunning Stanford chapel, a remarkable Romanesque church, which was packed full of mourners. Many in the congregation, people of all ages and stations, remembered having been there only five years earlier for the memorial service for Brita-Stina, Stig’s beloved wife of half a century.
The service, with songs sung in Swedish, was simple and elegant, befitting Stig and the science he so loved.
The congregation was reminded of Stig's commitment to science and religion, which he balanced with his interest in people and practical knowledge throughout his life. The academic and physical climate obviously appealed to Stig and Brita-Stina for they moved to Stanford to raise their family, pursue his science and nurture his students. Stig was a loving father to Lars, Mats, Karin and Lisa, and paternally influenced legions of students.
A telling anecdote described how every Christmas morning this Darwinian would read the Biblical nativity narrative to his four children at home and then walk them to his campus lab to share with them the intellectual pleasures in the latest scientific experiments which he and his students were pursuing and discovering.
Stanford President John Hennessy shared remembrances, abbreviating the many honors and accomplishments to focus on a few. Stig earned four science degrees (a BS, MS, PhD and DSc) from Uppsala—in physics, mathematics, chemistry and organic chemistry. Meritorious services, honorary degrees and other honors were heaped upon him as well, including the Order of the North Star and the Order of the Seraphim. He sat on the board of the King Carl XVI Gustaf Foundation and the Peter Wallenberg Foundation for Technology and Economics. Stig became an adjunct member of the Nobel Committee for the Physics prize (1988-2002) and was recognized as one of only nine people ever awarded the highest distinction by the Swedish Academy of Physics. He authored or co-authored hundreds of scientific and technical articles as well as many on higher education, winning him an academic reputation worldwide.
Stig taught and did fundamental research at Uppsala, MIT, UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Chalmers and at Linköping University, which he helped found, serving as chair of the Science Department and twice as vice chancellor. At Stanford he chaired his department and was director of Stanford’s Center of Materials Research, becoming Stanford emeritus professor in 1992.
After “retirement” he returned home to become University Chancellor of Sweden’s system of 37 universities and colleges, chairman of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and chairman of the Board of the Swedish Agency for Higher Education. As chancellor he revolutionized and restructured collegiate learning for 150,000 students but then returned to Stanford as co-director of the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning. His influence in this role pervaded the campus. He took great pride in the integrated sciences building, which by its design encouraged scientists from varied disciplines to collaborate in discoveries and solutions.
Hennessy lauded Stig as a pioneer in electon microscopy for surface sciences, resulting in a major impact upon the scientific understanding of the chemistry and physics of the surfaces of materials. This led him to develop “soft X-rays” and to be among the first to use synchrotron radiation in spectroscopy. His advocacy resulted in the creation of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL).
Honorary Consul General of Sweden Barbro Osher spoke movingly of her dear friend, whose kind wisdom and gentle humor always guided her. She spoke of how much he had done for education in Sweden and for always finding ways for scientific and cultural leaders from Sweden and California to meet and collaborate.
Osher concluded her remembrance by reading one of Stig’s favorite Swedish poems, in his native Swedish, translating each stanza, explaining how he foresaw his return not merely from dust to dust but from stardust to stardust.
Family friend David Spiegel shared his family’s remembrances as well as those of some colleagues. There was mention of Stig's Lincolnesque rise from poverty to distinction, of his love of learning and teaching, and the healthy sense of humor he nurtured to keep from taking himself too seriously.
The family’s eulogy was delivered by Stig's son, Mats. He recounted many of his father’s aphorisms and lessons taught. A particularly memorable one, which Mats embraced, was to wisely use time by learning something new each year. For this advice Mats was able to vividly remember each year as the one in which he achieved a new feat or important lesson. Stig passed along the wisdom that life is not a rehearsal and must be lived fully, with zest.
Following the service, refreshments were enjoyed in the faculty club Stig enjoyed so much as a professor. Displayed there were his university doctoral diploma with its pleated silk top hat and a number of photos from significant moments of his life.
The day was spent celebrating the life of one who was full of life. His admirers took heart from his example and vowed to learn from it. Stig Hagström was graceful and gracious, distinguished by a keen intelligence and quick wit, and devoted equally to science and teaching, to Sweden, California and the United States. With his passing we have not merely lost a gentle man, we have lost an exemplar of the civilized gentleman.

Friends are invited to continue Stig’s work by donating through Adelaide Dawes to the Stig and Brita-Stina Hagstrom Memorial Fund to further its mission: “To build upon and grow the relationship between Stanford University and Sweden in academic and cultural aspects by funding official speakers, students, and events to the benefit of the University and Swedish society.”


~Ted Olsson
San Francisco