Thorpe Reflects on Life, Impact of Randy Pausch

Post a Comment » Written on July 28th, 2008     
Filed under: News
DOHA, QATAR (July 28, 2008) – When Randy Pausch gave what would become known as “The Last Lecture,” he spoke of the lessons he learned from playing football.

“We actually don’t want our kids to learn football … but we send our kids out to learn much more important things,” he said. “Teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance, etcetera, etcetera. And these kinds of head fake learning are absolutely important. And you should keep your eye out for them because they’re everywhere.”

Chuck Thorpe, a fellow graduate student and later colleague of Pausch’s in the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University, fell victim to and was a beneficiary of the Pausch “head fakes.” As students, the two were on the same intramural football team. Thorpe played quarterback, and Pausch played receiver.

Pausch“We would have won the intermediate league championship, except that he ran such a good fake on his pass route that he faked out both the defender and me, and I threw it to the wrong spot!” Thorpe recalls.

Pausch became famous after giving “The Last Lecture” speech on September 18, 2007. The speech, which he gave when it became clear he was dying of pancreatic cancer, became a YouTube sensation and has been seen by more than 3.5 million people. He died Friday.

“The Last Lecture was great – very hard for us to watch, knowing that we wouldn’t be growing old with him, but very much Randy having a great time being Randy,” recalls Thorpe, who is now dean of the Carnegie Mellon campus in Qatar.

Although Thorpe and Pausch played football together as graduate students, they didn’t grow close until both were professors at Carnegie Mellon. They served on committees together, planned for the university’s future and competed on the basketball court every Wednesday.

He and others were excited last year when it appeared that Pausch was getting better.
“When I saw him last summer I told him to come visit us in Qatar,” recalls Thorpe. “He looked a little skinny, and I gave him a hard time about sharpening his elbows to be even more effective on the basketball court.

“Randy was very much the way he comes across in The Last Lecture,” Thorpe says. “Very straight forward, very clear, very focused on what he thought was the right thing to do, very energetic.

“He didn’t believe in playing politics,” Thorpe adds. “If he thought you were doing something stupid, he’d tell you, quietly on the side so as not to embarrass you, but very clearly. And if he thought you were doing something good, he’d tell you that also, very clearly, and very publicly.

“The most amazing thing to all of us was how he kept such an even keel through his illness,” Thorpe says. “He had serious pancreatic cancer – went to great lengths to find the most aggressive treatment – and thought he had it licked. It was very interesting talking to him – he took on cancer like he took on any research problem, with focus and determination.”

Pausch was diagnosed with the cancer in 2006, but seemed to improve. But in August of 2007, he was told he had three to six months to live.

“The rest of us were depressed,” Thorpe says. “Randy didn’t have time to be depressed, he wanted to keep on living as fully as he could, for his own sake and for the sake of his kids.”

As committed as Pausch was to his work, he also was devoted to his family. “We all thought he’d never get married because he was looking for the perfect woman,” Thorpe says. “In Jai, he found her.”

Pausch was one of the first people Thorpe ever knew to own a cell phone, which he purchased to keep in touch with his extended family. “Once he was married, he bought a house close to school so he wouldn’t waste any time commuting so he could spend all his free time with his wife and kids.”

“He was a caring person, and a good example to us all of how to lead a life of integrity and purpose,” Thorpe says. It was an obvious example – no head fake needed.

Editor’s note: Thorpe is a member of Stoneridge Covenant Church in Allison Park, Pennsylvania.

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