July 25, 2008, - 10:32 am

In Memory & a Book Review: Very Sad News – “Last Lecture” Prof Randy Pausch Dies at Age 47

By Debbie Schlussel
Several months ago, I told readers about “The Last Lecture,” the book Dr. Randy Pausch wrote with my friend, Jeff Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal.
Pausch was the professor who found out he was dying of pancreatic cancer, which took my father’s life, last year. He gave an hour lecture to his former college students and others at Carnegie Mellon University. In his case, it really was his “Last Lecture.” Filled with charming advice, life lessons and info about his life, Zaslow covered it in a Wall Street Journal article, and the lecture became one of the most popular viral videos on the Net. Pausch and Zaslow expanded the lecture into a book, “The Last Lecture,” which remains atop the non-fiction best-seller lists.
Sadly, today, Randy Pausch died at age 47. But his memory will live on through his kids and the advice he gave them and us in his video and book.


Jeff Zaslow sent me a copy of the book, which I read over Passover and planned to review on this site in a new book review feature. But I got busy, and didn’t get to the review, which I planned to post next week. So, now, I incorporate it herein.
“The Last Lecture” was both difficult and enjoyable for me to read. Difficult, because it discusses Pausch’s imminent death from the same incurable disease–pancreatic cancer–which took my father’s life.
Enjoyable, because it is a quick read that you can read in a couple of hours and is full of entertaining stories about Dr. Pausch and his interesting life experiences and advice.
Some of his advice is cute, other parts of it banal and obvious–but it is the stuff of old fashioned values that cannot be stressed enough to an America of declining integrity and mores. Randy Pausch tells his kids–and us–to tell the truth, practice loyalty, show appreciation, don’t be afraid to apologize, etc. And like every good father, he tells you–and his kids–to believe in your dreams and persist in pursuing them. He was a Disney Imagineer, but also a cheerfully optimistic realist.
Much of the book’s advice, though, is off the beaten path, while not being offensive to conventions. What kid wouldn’t love his parents to say: “Okay, you can color on the wall”? What kid wouldn’t find it cool that not only is his father a Trekkie, but has actually met Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner?
In “The Last Lecture,” Randy Pausch is simultaneously mindful of his brainiac former arrogance and extremely humbled by his certain death at the hands of something even arrogance will not scare off.
What do you say to your children to whom you know that you will soon be a very hazy memory at best and more likely a distant image from the past? What do you tell them in a book or in a one-hour video? How do you try to make them remember you? These are the questions that Randy Pausch faces head on, with humor, wit, and a certain immediacy.
And, instead of wallowing in self-pity or sadness, his approach is positive and cheery. (Didn’t need to know, though, that he got a vasectomy even though he knew he was dying. TMI.) It is fun to read.
It was tough for me to read the name, Robert A. Wolff, MD of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the world’s top pancreatic cancer specialists. I desperately spoke with Dr. Wolff and got my father to do so, as well–in the hope that he could help extend my father’s life. Sadly, he could not. But, if, G-d forbid, you or one of your relatives is afflicted with pancreatic cancer, this is the medical professional you must consult.
It was also comforting to read about how tough the “whipple” operation for pancreatic cancer is. I was upset that my father chose to decline it, but after reading what Dr. Pausch went through in that operation–with little extension of life–it helped me understand that my father made the right decision. So, through this book, Dr. Pausch and Jeff Zaslow unwittingly gave me some comfort in mourning my father.
In the end, though we do not know this man–Randy Pausch–and his young family, we feel as if we do. And we like and care about him. We’re sad to know that soon–now, we’ve unfortunately reached that inevitable time–he will no longer be with us. And we appreciate the amazing computer programs he’s contributed to our world, even if–like me–we’re not all computer science whizzes.
Reading this book, you’re sort of in awe at the way this man faces death with a casual, cool reaction and a strong desire to make sure his young family knows years later that they were loved. We don’t see enough positive portrayals of responsible, loving, devoted fathers in our society. And Randy Pausch was very obviously one of those fathers that there are so many unsung examples of in America.
While it is Randy Pausch’s story and advice, it is evident that Jeff Zaslow became a good friend to him in his last almost year and that he helped enable him to find a source of tremendous income that will take care of his family, in addition to getting his message out to his kids and the world. I’m sure Pausch was and his family is very grateful.
I recommend you buy and read “The Last Lecture,” because you will definitely get something out of it. And that’s in addition to the basic, enjoyable entertainment value of Randy Pausch’s story.
Yes, it was his last lecture and his advice to his family. But there is plenty in it that you can proudly and should happily make yours.
Randy Pausch, Ph.D., father, teacher, valuable lecturer to America, Rest in Peace.
Watch “The Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”:

Watch a video report by Jeff Zaslow:

Watch a well done ABC News/Diane Sawyer special on “The Last Lecture.” Visit “The Last Lecture” site.
Because my father went through the same illness as Randy Pausch and had several months of mini-“last lectures” to me, Jeff also wrote me:

If you do write about it, you should relink to that tribute about your dad, which was so beautiful.

So, I am re-linking to my tribute to my beloved father, H.L. Schlussel, MD. Dad, I miss you so much.

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3 Responses

Debbie, I think your father, G-d bless him, decided not have the operation because he felt it would give him little benefit and he wanted to be in control of his life to the very end. Cancer is a difficult illness for those afflicted and their loved ones to go through. Especially if its one that turns out to be terminal. And sometimes, the end is heart-breaking. But its also an affirmation of the human character and what is left behind matters more than the fact of death. Of all the creatures upon the earth, only Man is given by G-d the power to deny death his final victory by not giving into death. When we see our loved ones fighting the good fight, we know the human spirit is full of greatness even during one’s darkest hours and even they can’t communicate with us, our loved ones just draw strength from those near them. Through such ordeal, we come away changed, yes – saddened and disconsolate at what we can never get back but also uplifted and comforted by the knowledge life matters and those we remember forever in our hearts ask us to be happy and rejoice in life as they would have had they still been among us. And surely too, knowing G-d, this life is not the end but merely the prelude to the life in the World To Come!

NormanF on July 25, 2008 at 11:44 am

Our lives may be finite but as relinking your tribute to your father shows, we have the power to cherish those we love and its a treasure whose value just grows with time. When our parents are gone – and I know how hard it was to lose my own father – their faith, their values and how they led their lives become an inspiration to us. The hardest lesson of all, the lesson of death, makes us see how precious human life is and to appreciate all the moments we have as long we are here for they will never come again!

NormanF on July 25, 2008 at 12:32 pm

Since I haven’t read the book or watch the video yet (I will soon) I was unaware that Mr. Pausch was a patient at MD Anderson until last week. I probably at some point passed him in the elevator at that hospital along with several other people who are more educated, have more money and more prestige than I do.
Fortunately, the Drs at MDACC treat everyone the same. I know that when I visit my Dr in another clinic I will get equal time & attention just as Mr Pausch did.
MDACC is simply AMAZING and even though not every story is as positive as my story I know that those Drs in that hospital are simply the best around. If you have cancer please consider this place.

piratelady on July 25, 2008 at 2:39 pm

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