Randy Pausch loses battle with pancreatic cancer at 47

For those of you who have never heard of Randy Pausch, he was a much admired professor at Carnegie Mellon (my alma mater), and became world-renowned for his “Last Lecture” delivered last September in which he emphatically discussed how to really achieve all of your childhood dreams (he did!).

Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August, 2006; at the time, he and his wife had a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and a 3-month-old baby. Pancreatic cancer has a 4% 5-year survival rate, and Randy lasted two years through sheer will and perseverance and willingness to try any treatment possible. He kept a blog detailing his health status. Its last entry was last night written by an anonymous friend saying that Randy had entered hospice. Less than an hour ago, Diane Sawyer announced on Good Morning America that Randy had passed away last night. He was 47 years old.

A few weeks ago, David Armano wrote a blog post titled, Disney’s $100,000 Salt + Pepper Shaker, in which he relates his notion of “micro-interactions” to a story about Disney World that Randy tells in his book, The Last Lecture, published in April of this year. The story is about the small things an individual at an organization can do to create an everlasting impression on the customer, to build trust and loyalty and affection. Read David’s post and then read Randy’s book. It will make you realize what’s really important in this life.

Hearing of Randy Pausch’s death this morning made my heart sink. I feel sick now and wish I had reached out to him to tell him how much of an impression he had made on my life. All I can do now is re-post the comment I left on David’s blog, offering up thanks to the universe for putting Randy Pausch in my path, for making me a stronger person, and for showing me what it means to stop at nothing to achieve your dreams.

Randy Pausch was one of my professors at CMU. He taught the most difficult course I took to receive my degree in Human-Computer Interaction. It was called Programming Usable Interfaces and was essentially about how to express your ideas through functional prototypes. The course materials introduced me to the most prominent thought-leaders in the field (Jakob Nielsen, Don Norman, Jesse James Garrett, Steve Krug), and the assignments were unbelievably rigorous.

Randy insisted that any GUI developer or user experience designer (the course contained both types) worth his salt has to have the ability to prototype his ideas and the balls to test them with real people. And ultimately, the inner strength to admit he was wrong and make the design better.

You could say Randy is the opposite of a pushover; he often held a very hard line in class discussions. But despite all the times he and I clashed (in particular on the issue of whether AM/PM is a needed display in hotel alarm clocks: he matter-of-factly said no, I vehemently disagreed; years later I realized he was right), to this day I credit him — his perspective, his tenacity and his endless passion for uplifting the human experience — for making me the designer I am today.

He is going through what no human being ever deserves to experience, but he is owning it, reveling in the chance he’s been given to say goodbye, and making an everlasting impression on this earth. All of us should be so lucky.

Randy, rest in peace. You will be deeply missed.

Read more about Randy Pausch on his CMU webpage or on Wikipedia.

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  1. jessica says

    I did not know Randy but what a positive influence he is on everyone’s life. My heart stopped this morning when I could not get on the website I had in my favorites. Something just told me! A more positive attitude I’ve never known and Randy will forever have a spot in my heart. My deepest sympathies to his family!

  2. says

    I’m envious you had the pleasure of knowing him and learning from him firsthand… I have recommended his book to more than a few, and my kiddos are absolutely decorating their rooms any way they want.

    Good of you to post a tribute on here… my sympathies to all his students, friends, and definitely his family.

  3. says

    Whitney, I lived in the Burgh for quite a while and have had numerous friends from CMU who used to talk about him, I then moved to Florida awhile back and heard about the last lecture via the PG. It was at that point that I blogged about Randy Pausch and basically followed every step of his life.

    it was with a tremendous amount of sadness that I heard about him this morning and it was like being punched. Good people are taken from us far too soon and he was one of the good people.

    Thanks for writing this.


  4. says

    Randy’s lectures were amazing. He will be missed.

    A close relative of mine was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We are organizing a major 24hour blog-o-thon to raise awareness of cancer (particularly pancreatic cancer) and raise money for research. We are trying to enlist the help of any bloggers that would like to participate. If you’d like to help out or find out more please let me know. Our site is: http://www.atilus.com/cancer

  5. Lisa Anderson says

    First heard of Randy Pausch when he was going to be on Oprah. It was an amazing last lecture that he gave. It was very near and dear to my heart, because my husband had pancreatic cancer and passed away Dec. 17 2007. He was and will always be such and inspiration to myself and so many others. My husband was a strong and brave man, and is miss him every day, every second. We were only married for a little over 2 yrs when he passed away, he was the love of my life. My heart goes out to Randy’s family.

  6. farnaz says

    It saddens me to hear of Randy’s passing. I watched him play his video on Oprah a while ago, which really moved me (all the way in Australia).
    I would have loved to sit in on one of his lectures.
    At that time, I was not aware of what field he lectured in. But today after starting Information Architecture and looking at useability blogs, it’s amazing that I have come across his story again and that he was in a similar field.

  7. says

    Thanks for discover me this man.
    I have saw this post wen you publish it, but when you made your post for your new readers you remember me it.
    I have seen the video and I thing I'm so touching about this lecture.
    Thanks for it.
    ps: sorry about my english

  8. zandora says

    I dont know him personally but after reading your post, I am sure he must have been a great person and a great teacher. May his soul rest in peace.

  9. Lynne Polischuik says

    I just chanced upon this post and it reminded me of the sadness I felt on hearing of Randy's passing and also that it's probably time I read 'The Last Lecture' again. I did not realize that Randy actually taught Human Computer Interaction until after I'd watched–and been very touched by–parts of his 'Last Lecture' video. He was truly an extraordinary man. I'm envious you had the opportunity to interact with him and learn from Randy first hand, Whitney. What an experience.


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