Jill Smolowe
August 11, 2008 12:00 PM

Adored by his computer science students for infusing learning with fun, Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch delivered his best lessons in sound bites. “Decide if you’re a Tigger or an Eeyore,” he would say. Or “When there’s an elephant in the room, introduce it.” So when Pausch’s two-year battle with pancreatic cancer took a turn for the worse on July 24, Steve Seabolt, who’d rushed to his dying friend’s side, introduced the elephant. “There’s nothing left on the to-do list,” Seabolt said. “Is there anything preventing you from letting go?”

“No,” Pausch responded.

“Good,” Seabolt recalls saying. “Are you ready?”

“I’ll let you know shortly,” Pausch said. Soon after, at 4 a.m. on July 25, Pausch, 47, died at the Chesapeake, Va., home he shared with the people he loved: his wife, Jai, 41, and their three children, Dylan, 6, Logan, 3, and Chloe, 2.

A star within his academic field, Pausch catapulted to global fame after he delivered Carnegie Mellon’s traditional “Last Lecture” in September 2007. Intended to showcase a professor’s personal philosophy, the lecture in Pausch’s case really would be one of his last: He’d recently been told that he had, at best, six months to live. Though 400 colleagues and students attended, Pausch’s real audience was his children, who would someday view it. Filled with the kind of simple yet sage advice Pausch had always given his students—never give up on your dreams, find the best in others, have fun—the lecture went viral on the Internet, drawing 10 million new listeners. “He didn’t know he was going to be talking to the world,” says journalist Jeffrey Zaslow, who collaborated with Pausch on The Last Lecture, a book that expanded on Pausch’s thoughts and landed atop bestseller lists, where it remains.

None of that, though, could give Pausch’s kids more time with their dad. The day after his death, Dylan told Seabolt, “Your family has a daddy. My family doesn’t have a daddy anymore.” But they do have plenty of people who will help his spirit live on. “Randy,” says his sister Tamara Mason, “had magic.”

Pausch wrote the book—now in 30 languages—by talking to his coauthor via cell phone as he biked.

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