July 26, 2008

Professor Did His Best to Put Fun into Dying


By Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer

The Virginian-Pilot


Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University professor whose funny, upbeat talk about how to live life with gusto while dying was viewed by millions , died early Friday at his Chesapeake home. He was 47.

He was a professor of computer science, human-computer and design who founded a center for entertainment technology and pioneered software designed to allow anyone to create 3-D animations.

It was his lecture on living with joy and zeal, given after he learned he was dying of cancer, that gained him fame and led to a best-selling book. His mother, Virginia Pausch , said Friday that he never expected such a response to his lecture or the book.

"That was the last thing in the world he expected to happen. When the accolades began to pour in, he was just constantly amazed. Surprised. He said, 'Whoever knew that dying would be such a draw?'"

Pausch gave his talk in September after finding out he had three to six months of healthy living left. His pancreatic cancer, which he'd been fighting since fall 2006, had spread to his liver and spleen, essentially a death sentence.

The lecture was "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams." Pausch's dreams included being in zero gravity, winning stuffed animals at amusement parks, being Captain Kirk, and working as a Disney Imagineer- the people who design Disney theme parks.

Adulthood required changes - Pausch downgraded "being Captain Kirk" to "meeting Captain Kirk," for example - but in his lecture, he spoke of not giving up on the things you really want.

"Remember, brick walls let us show our dedication," he said. "They are there to separate us from the people who don't really want to achieve their childhood dreams. Don't bail."

During the talk, he brought out the collection of stuffed animals he'd won, and showed a brief clip of him floating in zero gravity on one of NASA's "Vomit Comets." Life was about achieving childhood dreams, he said, but it was important to make sure it was also fun.

"I don't know how to not have fun," he told the audience. "I'm dying, and I'm having fun. And I'm going to keep having fun every day I have left ."

In May, he was listed by Time Magazine as one of the World's Top 100 Most Influential People. More than 6 million people have viewed versions of the lecture online, his Web site says, The lecture was eventually developed into a book, "The Last Lecture," co-written by Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow.

"How many people get to influence the lives of millions of people by saying things that spoke to their heart?" said sister Tammy Mason, who was in Chesapeake. "I miss him terribly. I'm happy that he's out of pain. My heart is breaking for his wife and three children."

Pausch moved his family to Chesapeake not long after his diagnosis , in order to be closer to wife Jai's family in Norfolk. There, he updated fans on his health through his Web site. On June 26, he wrote he was considering going off chemo .

His mother visited him in Chesapeake this week. She said what he was most concerned about was not being there to share his life with his wife or help his children grow up.

Virginia Pausch said goodbye to her son Wednesday night.

He is survived by his wife, Jai Glasgow Pausch, and children Dylan, Logan and Chloe.

Staff writer Mike Saewitz contributed to this report.

Alicia Wittmeyer, (757) 222-5216, [email protected]

- online

Watch Pausch's "Last Lecture" at hampton roads.com/pilot/pausch Check out Randy Pausch's famous lecture on YouTube at http:// tiny.cc/rPm0U.

Originally published by BY ALICIA P.Q. WITTMEYER.

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