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In Memoriam: Randy Pausch, 1960-2008

The_pausch_kids If you were to list the most influential people in your life a year ago, the name 'Randy Pausch' probably wouldn't have come up.

But thanks to a series of improbable events, there are tens of millions of people whose lives have changed because of this man, who died earlier today of pancreatic cancer in Chesapeake, VA. He was 47.

Dr. Pausch and his family recently moved to Chesapeake so that his wife and children would be near family after his death. (Pictured above: Randy Pausch with his three children Dylan, Logan and Chloe.)

Most people wouldn't know what to do if they knew the end was upon them. Dr. Pausch knew he wanted to say something to his students and leave something for his three children. Dr. Pauch's valentine to his kids was a deeply moving speech on the subject of "how to live your life" and in a lecture filled with both laughter and tears, resulted in a scene that might have come out of the movie Dead Poets Society. Some of the more popular quotes from his so-called "Last Lecture" are: 

  • "...The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They are there to stop the OTHER people!"
  • "...when you see yourself doing something badly and nobody's bothering you to tell you anymore, that's a very bad place to be. Your critics are the ones telling you they still love you and care."
  • "It's not about how to achieve your dreams, it's all about leading your life. If you lead your life in a right way, karma will take care of itself. And dreams will come to you."

Dr. Pausch was not wealthy in the way that far too many people think about wealth. Instead, he dared to dream of a better life. Dr. Pausch lived that life in accordance with certain ideals, and he shared those ideals with great warmth and humor, first with his family, then with his colleagues and students, and thanks to YouTube, with the world.

After his last lecture, Dr. Pausch was named "Person of the Week" on ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, became a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers for a day during their regular practice, filmed a role in the upcoming J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie, and was the subject of an hour long Diane Sawyer feature.

As I write this, Carnegie-Mellon server has been brought to its knees by all of the web traffic from people who have heard of Dr. Pausch's passing and were looking for some of his last thoughts.

It is critically important to keep Dr. Pausch’s message, "to make every day matter in the fight against pancreatic cancer," moving forward. The family requests that donations on his behalf be directed to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 2141 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 7000, El Segundo, CA 90245, or to Carnegie Mellon's Randy Pausch Memorial Fund (www.cmu.edu/giving/pausch), which primarily supports the university's continued work on the Alice project.

We will miss him.

More quotes from "The Last Lecture":

"...It's wonderful to be here. What they didn't tell you is that this lecture series used to be called 'The Last Lecture'. If you had one last lecture to give before you died, what would it be? I thought, damn, I finally nailed the venue and they renamed it."

"...We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. If I don't seem as depressed as I should be, sorry to disappoint you. I assure you I am not in denial. It's not like I'm not aware of what's going on...The other thing is that I am in phenomenally good health right now. I mean, it's the greatest thing of cognitive dissonance you will ever see: the fact   that I am in really good shape. In fact, I am in better shape than most of you. [Pausch starts doing push-ups.] So anybody who wants to cry or pity me can get down and do a few of those."

"...How do you get people to help you? By telling the truth. Being earnest. I'll take an earnest person over a hip person every day, because hip is short-term."

"...Apologise when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself. How do I make a concrete example of that? See, yesterday was my wife's birthday. If there was ever a time I might be entitled to have the focus on me, it might be the last lecture. But no, I feel very badly that my wife didn't really get a proper birthday, and I thought it would be very nice if 500 people... [a birthday cake is wheeled on to the stage]."

"...Remember, brick walls let us show our dedication. They are there to separate us from the people who don't really want to achieve their dreams. Don't bail. The best of the gold's at the bottom of barrels of crap."

"...Show gratitude. When I got tenure I took all of my research team down to Disney World for a week. And one of the other professors said, 'How can you do that?' I said: 'These people just busted their ass and got me the best job in the world for life. How could I not do that?'"

"...Don't complain. Just work harder [shows slide of Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player]. It was in his contract not to complain, even when fans spit on him."

"...Work hard. I got tenure a year early. Junior faculty members used to say to me, 'What's your secret?' I said, 'It's pretty simple: call me any Friday night in my office at ten o'clock and I'll tell you.'"

"...Find the best in everybody. You might have to wait a long time, but people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting, it will come out. And be prepared. Luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity."

Pancreatic cancer: the victims that rocked the world

Luciano Pavarotti
Operatic superstar Pavarotti died in September last year after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. Despite successful surgery to remove tumours in 2006, his condition worsened and he was forced to call off concerts. He was 71 when he died. Two-thirds of pancreatic cancer sufferers are aged 70 or over.

Magnus Magnusson
The much-loved Mastermind host died in January 2007, just four months after being diagnosed with cancer. He was 77. His four surviving children said he had taught them both how to live, and how to die. "He did both," they said, "with infinite grace."

Syd Barrett
Roger Keith Barrett – known as Syd – was the iconoclastic former frontman for Pink Floyd. A recluse, he died of pancreatic cancer in 2006, aged 60. The original acid casualty was supposedly the subject of his bandmates' anthem "Shine on You Crazy Diamond".

Bill Hicks
Bill Hicks, an incendiary American comedian, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1993, aged just 31. He continued to perform while undergoing chemotherapy, even using his condition for material. One of his more famous jokes concerned the actor Yul Brynner, who, like Hicks, blamed his own death on prodigious smoking. Hicks died in February 1994.

Dizzy Gillespie
Jazz trumpeter John Birks 'Dizzy' Gillespie died of the disease in 1993, aged 75, in Englewood, New Jersey. Englewood Hospital established the Dizzy Gillespie Cancer Institute and Memorial Fund in his memory.

Rene Magritte
Magritte, the Belgian surrealist known for his witty paintings of pipes, apples and bowler hats, died of pancreatic cancer in Brussels in 1967. Though his painting was famously "not a pipe", Magritte was a   smoker.

Patrick Swayze
The Hollywood star best known for Dirty Dancing and Ghost announced that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this month. He is now undergoing chemotherapy. Swayze, 55, plans to continue working despite his condition.


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