I think Unitarian Universalism offers the thinking caring person a wonderful spiritual home. But we are not evangelical (to our detriment…there are way too few of us) so I’m always happy to learn that some well-known person I deeply respect turns out to be a UU.
Unfortunately, in the case of folks like Christopher Reeve and Randy Pausch, they leave us too early. But at least they leave us with important lessons. Randy’s Last Lecture has been an internet phenomenon. His message is typical UU: make the most of your time on earth, do good, love each other, follow your dreams. It’s about the here and now, not the hereafter.
In Memoriam: Randy Pausch, Unitarian Universalist,
Author of “The Last Lecture”
Randy Pausch, Computer Science Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, died on July 25 after a two-year struggle with pancreatic cancer. A Unitarian Universalist who first came to this faith as a member of the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), Pausch was 47 years old.
Celebrated in his field for co-founding the pioneering Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center and for creating the innovative educational software tool known as “Alice,” Pausch earned his greatest worldwide fame for his inspirational The Last Lecture which was subsequently published by Hyperion Books. Pausch was interviewed by UUA.org this past June.
UUA.org: The Last Lecture has been a huge bestseller, and you have subsequently received much public attention from Oprah Winfrey, ABC-TV, and more. You once said in an interview that you wrote this book to deliver a “message in a bottle” to your children. Surely you never imagined such publicity as you’ve received…how did all this happen?
Pausch: What’s happened is way beyond my imagination. It’s sort of a classic “viral internet” event; some of my colleagues could not be at the talk [given at Carnegie Mellon University] and asked if we would make the video available online. Jeff Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal wrote a column on it, and then it just took off. The thing that I find most gratifying is that people are telling me both the lecture and the book are helping them communicate with their own kids.
UUA.org: What is your religious background, and what is it about being a Unitarian Universalist that attracted you to this faith?
Pausch: I was raised Presbyterian and attended church regularly until I was about 17. I like the fact that [Unitarian Universalism] appeals to reason and thought more than dogma.
UUA.org: How important has faith been in your life? And what role did your congregation in Pittsburgh play as you have moved through your illness?
Pausch: That’s a hard question to answer; [but] I would say that the community of people who share our faith has been extremely important recently. The [Pittsburgh] congregation was very supportive; people brought meals, helped with our kids, and helped keep our spirits up. One member of the congregation has been just unbelievable: M.R. Kelsey has spent so much time with me when I’ve been sick, even after our move to Virginia.
UUA.org: You spent a bit of time being an “Imagineer” with the Disney organization. Disney’s slogan, you note, is, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” You seem like a very positive person…living that slogan. What might be possible for you at this time in your life, and what is it that you imagine?
Pausch: Well, I’m not opposed to miracles, so I still dream of some scenario where my disease is cured or goes away…. But I’m enough of a realist to know that’s very, very unlikely. So at this time in my life, what’s possible is spending as much time as possible with my family and minimizing my physical pain as we go through the endgame.
UUA.org: What are the things that bring you the most joy?
Pausch: Oh, my wife and children, without a doubt. All three of our kids are so young that each day they can do something they didn’t do yesterday, which is just so wonderful to be a part of.
UUA.org: You write, “No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse. At the same time, it is often within your power to make them better.” What is it—at this point in the journey—that gives you hope?
Pausch: Well, I see so much goodness in so many people, and that has really been intensified by this experience.
UUA.org: If you could influence such a thing, what would you want your legacy to be?
Pausch: That I was a good husband and father, and that I tried to live my life the best I could, and that I was able to help other people along the way.
Randy Pausch is survived by his wife, Jai, and their three children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe. Also surviving are his mother, Virginia Pausch of Columbia, Maryland, and a sister, Tamara Mason of Lynchburg, Virginia. The family plans a private burial in Virginia, where they relocated last fall. A memorial service on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University is also being planned, with details to be announced at a later date.
Donations in Pausch’s memory may 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, which primarily supports the university’s continued work on the Alice project.