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The outpouring of love for Randy Pausch

When I found out yesterday morning that Randy Pausch had passed away the night before, I felt a wave of regret pour over me. For the things I never said. Like: “Thank you for showing me that my purpose in life is to make other people’s lives better.” That would have been a good start.

Instead, we argued. A lot. Publicly, in the middle of a classroom with 100 students. I questioned his strong opinions and he pushed back. Quite honestly I couldn’t stand him. I just thought he was a tough professor that didn’t like being challenged. It was years later when I watched his Last Lecture and heard him say, “When you’re screwing up and nobody’s saying anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.” That’s when it finally clicked. I had been wrong. And he cared enough to let me know it.

The quick post that I wrote about Randy Pausch yesterday got a lot more attention than I ever expected — but really, I should have expected it, knowing what a monumental impact Pausch had on so many people’s lives.

The post ended up getting 3,500+ hits yesterday, mostly from people who had simply Googled “Randy Pausch.” (To give you a benchmark, my most-read post to date had 610 views.) The post received a few comments and people reached out through Twitter.

I received a LinkedIn request from a woman in Chicago who said:

I am an extreme admirer of Randy Pausch and am in so much pain today to find out he lost his cancer battle. I found your website via Google and would like very much to connect with you.

Then later in the day an e-mail with the subject “Randy Pausch” came in:

Whitney, I’m just a soul out in western Oklahoma who was deeply moved and touched by the energy and enthusiasm Randy Pausch had toward the life he had been given.

Since you have studied under him, do you know if Mr Pausch was a christian believing soul?

I pray I have not offended you in any way by my question.

What a privilege you were given to have had such a friend.

Thank you for your time

These e-mails show me that everyone out there is so wildly thirsty for human connection. Death somehow brings us closer together, makes us realize our own mortality and forces us to question our priorities. Dave Malouf summed it up: “Reminds me that ‘every interaction counts’ is about LIFE, not about Design.”

Yesterday afternoon, Carnegie Mellon’s President Jared Cohon sent out an e-mail to alumni. I want to share it with you so that you can begin to understand the impact Randy Pausch had on our community.

Dear Alumni:

Randy PauschIt is with great sadness that I inform you that our dear friend and colleague Randy Pausch passed away today, July 25, after a brave struggle against pancreatic cancer.

Randy captured the minds and hearts of millions worldwide with his Carnegie Mellon lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” and his book, “The Last Lecture.”

Randy, who earned his doctorate from Carnegie Mellon in 1988, returned to the university in 1997 as an associate professor of human-computer interaction and computer science. Along with Carnegie Mellon Professor Don Marinelli, Randy was the co-founder of the Entertainment Technology Center, a leading interactive multimedia education and entertainment center.

At Carnegie Mellon, Randy was also the director of the Alice software project, a revolutionary way to teach computer programming. The interactive Alice program teaches computer programming by having kids make animated movies and games. A fitting legacy to Randy’s life and work, Alice may in the future help to reverse the dramatic drop in the number of students majoring in computer science at colleges and universities. Randy was also known as a pioneer in the development of virtual reality, and he created the popular Building Virtual Worlds class.

An award-winning teacher and researcher, Randy was also a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator and a Lilly Foundation Teaching Fellow. He used sabbatical leaves to work at Walt Disney Imagineering and Electronic Arts (EA), and he consulted with Google Inc. on user interface design. He is the author or co-author of five books and more than 70 articles.

Perhaps the greatest lesson, however, Randy taught us all was how to live, even in the face of great challenges, and how to follow our passion. While Randy’s greatest passion was clearly his family, he did not shy from sharing his passion for his work as a professor, for his students, and for Carnegie Mellon. We will miss Randy, but we will carry the memory of him and all that he did to make Carnegie Mellon a better university and each of us who knew him a better person.

A memorial service for Randy will be scheduled at a later date. For more information, visit www.cmu.edu.

Sincerely,

Jared L. Cohon
President, Carnegie Mellon University

Randy would be proud of the passion he has inspired in so many people; people from different walks of life, different ages, backgrounds, professions, political affiliations. His bravery created community and connection. What more could anyone hope for?

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  • gregorylent

    people in america are so weird about death, and this “outpouring” has been an intense illustration of that.

    death is the best thing in an entire life, it is what all of embodiment is about, leads to, is for.

    the grief of most people is pure narcissism and should not be rewarded.

    he is free. we are not. there is nothing sad about either side of this.

    not as stupid as russert, but nearly

  • http://sheilamikulin.typepad.com/soulful_coach/ Sheila Mikulin

    Whitney – thanks for sharing your experience with Randy.

    My mom passed away of pancreatic cancer 9 years ago on 7/29. I had been following Randy’s blog posts as he courageously described his experience daily, weekly and then the posts stopped and I had a sad feeling he may be passing soon.

    As the anniversary of my mother’s death is coming, I have been mourning her and now I mourn the loss of him for the world. My heart goes out to his family – his beautiful, little children. May tomorrow be gentle with their hearts….

    Sheila

    http://sheilamikulin.typepad.com/soulful_coach/

  • Barb

    I haven’t followed this as much as some, but wish I had.

    2 years ago this past January, I lost my husband to Pancreatic Cancer. I know what it can do to the body. Watching Mr Pausch was awe inspiring. I wish my husband could have seen him.

    I made sure his kids and my grandchildren saw the video with Mr Pausch.

    My heart goes out to his wife and children.

    Thank you for posting this.

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  • http://www.shiningmoments.net Georgia Weithe

    Whitney, this is the first account I've read of someone who was a student of Randy Pausch. What an interesting perspective; thank you.

    When I was accompanying my father on his end-of-life journey, I learned what Randy Pausch showed us: that death is a teacher and a friend. Here are three things it taught me about how to live:

    Live your life so you have no regrets.

    Acknowledge the presence of those you love, and honor your spouse or partner, your children and your friends because you may not have another day to improve the quality of your relationships.

    Admit to yourself that life is fleeting and all things as we know them will come to an end; then out of the awareness of the endings, create new beginnings.

    When we accept that life doesn’t go on forever, every day becomes more precious. I’d like to share my positive thoughts on facing death with others at http://www.shiningmoments.net.

    I am so happy Randy has given a new face to death and dying, as well as life and living. Thanks to him, many people will find the courage to face the fact that death is a part of life.

  • http://www.shiningmoments.net Georgia Weithe

    Whitney, this is the first account I’ve read of someone who was a student of Randy Pausch. What an interesting perspective; thank you.

    When I was accompanying my father on his end-of-life journey, I learned what Randy Pausch showed us: that death is a teacher and a friend. Here are three things it taught me about how to live:

    Live your life so you have no regrets.

    Acknowledge the presence of those you love, and honor your spouse or partner, your children and your friends because you may not have another day to improve the quality of your relationships.

    Admit to yourself that life is fleeting and all things as we know them will come to an end; then out of the awareness of the endings, create new beginnings.

    When we accept that life doesn’t go on forever, every day becomes more precious. I’d like to share my positive thoughts on facing death with others at http://www.shiningmoments.net.

    I am so happy Randy has given a new face to death and dying, as well as life and living. Thanks to him, many people will find the courage to face the fact that death is a part of life.