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OBITUARIES : Randy Pausch, 1960 - 2008

Professor delivered a moving 'last lecture'

July 26, 2008|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people.

After his applications to become a Disney Imagineer were repeatedly rejected, Pausch said, he talked his way into spending a sabbatical in the mid-1990s at the company's virtual-reality studio. He helped design such virtual-reality rides as Aladdin's Magic Carpet at Walt Disney World.

Randolph Frederick Pausch was born Oct. 23, 1960, in Baltimore and said he won the "parent lottery" with Fred and Virginia Pausch. His father sold insurance and his mother taught English. As a teenager growing up in Columbia, Md., he was allowed to paint whatever he wanted on his bedroom walls. His artistry included a quadratic equation, elevator doors and the rocket ship that adorns the cover of his book.

After graduating from Brown University with a bachelor's degree in 1982, Pausch earned a doctorate in computer science from Carnegie Mellon in 1988. At the University of Virginia, he taught for nine years. When he got tenure, he thanked his research team by taking members to Disney World.

Although he didn't make it to the NFL, Pausch said playing high school football taught him to master fundamentals and accept criticism. A month after his speech, the Pittsburgh Steelers invited him to a practice. Pausch caught passes, grinning ear to ear.

Last fall, he moved his family to southeastern Virginia so that Jai, his wife of eight years, could be near relatives. He tried to "build memories" with his children, taking his oldest, Dylan, to ride a dolphin and introducing his son Logan to Mickey Mouse at Disney World.

For his final Halloween, his family -- including his youngest, daughter Chloe -- went as the animated characters the Incredibles, personifying his end-of-life mantra:

We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.

With the newfound status the speech bestowed on him, Pausch called attention to the need for cancer research, appearing before Congress in March and filming a fundraising spot for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

The same friends who called him "St. Randy" to poke fun at his media image were "not surprised that he's moving the world," Zaslow said. "They always thought he was special. Even his doctor said, 'If I picked one patient who would become famous and inspire the world, it would be him.' "

Weeks after his book was released, 2.3 million copies of it were in print. It is being published in 29 languages.

By the book's end, Pausch sounds like a parent imparting advice as fast as he can.

The chapters grow shorter as he tries to fit it all in: Don't obsess over what people think. No job is beneath you. Tell the truth.

Ever the comedian, Pausch delighted in his mother's use of humor to keep him humble.

After I got my PhD, my mother took great relish in introducing me as, "This is my son. He's a doctor, but not the kind that helps people."

His mother couldn't have been more wrong.

In addition to his wife and children, he is survived by his mother and a sister.

Donations may be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network,, or to Carnegie Mellon's Randy Pausch Memorial Fund,




Last lecture

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