Professor’s Dying Message Inspired Millions
By Allison M Heinrichs
Randy Pausch got the rare opportunity to know he had a limited amount of life left.
He used it.
The Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor whose “Last Lecture” became a worldwide sensation died early Friday of pancreatic cancer. He was 47.
“Randy had an enormous and lasting impact,” university President Jared L. Cohon said in a statement. “Carnegie Mellon — and the world — are better places for having had Randy Pausch in them.”
Pausch died in his home in Chesapeake, Va., surrounded by his wife, Jai, and their three young children. They moved there last year to be closer to family.
When doctors told Pausch in August 2007 that his advanced cancer would kill him in a matter of months, he gave his “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon about achieving childhood dreams.
The bittersweet speech was recorded and viewed by more than 6 million people on the Internet, according to the university. Pausch followed it up with appearances on “Good Morning America” and “Oprah.”
He then wrote a 206-page book called “The Last Lecture” with the Wall Street Journal’s Jeffrey Zaslow that was published in April and became a No. 1 best-seller internationally, translated into 30 languages.
“Time is all you have,” Pausch said in the book. “And you may find one day that you have less than you think.”
Carnegie Mellon is giving the book to incoming freshmen with their orientation materials.
Jai Pausch encouraged her husband to write it as a “manual” for her and the kids. He treated it as a way to give their children — Dylan, 6; Logan, 4, and Chloe, 2 — a sense of who he was and what he wished for them.
Pausch first came to Carnegie Mellon in 1982. He earned his doctorate six years later and taught for eight years at the University of Virginia before returning to Carnegie Mellon in 1997, this time as a computer science professor.
“Randy was a wonderful guy, and I certainly will miss him,” said Cleah Schlueter, a project manager in Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science.
She forwarded thousands of letters to Pausch that people, inspired by his story, sent to the university. He said he wanted the letters saved for his children.
Pausch co-founded the Entertainment Technology Center with drama and arts professor Don Marinelli. It unites computer science and fine arts students to find an entertaining way to bring technology to audiences.
He also oversaw the development of Alice, free software that teaches computer programming. Nearly 20 percent of U.S. colleges use it.
“Randy considered Alice his legacy,” said Wanda Dann, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon who now directs the Alice project.
During a visit in 1998 to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to give a lecture on virtual reality, Pausch met and fell in love with his future wife. They were married in 2000 and lived in Shadyside until moving to Chesapeake.
“She’s one of the only people I’d ever met who could stand up to me, and her wit and beauty compelled me to want to spend the rest of my life with her,” Pausch said in an interview with the Tribune- Review shortly after learning his cancer would be fatal.
Given the chance to contribute to his own obituary, Pausch requested that this message be passed on to readers:
“In lieu of flowers,” he said. “Use the money to increase your life insurance if you have kids.”
In addition to his wife and children, Pausch is survived by his mother, Virginia Pausch, of Columbia, Md., and a sister, Tamara Mason of Lynchburg, Va. The family plans a private burial in Virginia. Carnegie Mellon is planning a memorial, as is The First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh in Shadyside.
Donations on Pausch’s behalf can be sent to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 2141 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 7000, El Segundo, Calif., 90245 or Carnegie Mellon’s Randy Pausch Memorial Fund, www.cmu.edu/ giving/pausch, which supports the Alice program.
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