Dying Professor, Famous for His Last Lecture, Testifies Before Congress

March 13, 2008

Washington — Randy Pausch held up an 8-by-10 picture of his three children and his wife — who, he noted, will soon be his widow — as he testified before a U.S. House appropriations subcommittee this afternoon, urging lawmakers to provide more money for research on pancreatic cancer.

Mr. Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and co-founder of its Entertainment Technology Center, is fighting the terminal disease and said doctors don’t expect him to make it through the year. Testifying on behalf of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, he wore a purple bracelet and purple tie, the group’s symbols.

The professor described to the lawmakers on the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies how he became an accidental celebrity last year by giving an inspirational “last lecture” that has been viewed millions of times on YouTube. He says he is trying to use that fame to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer, a disease on which little medical progress has been made in the past 30 years.

“We don’t have a Michael J. Fox” to speak for pancreatic cancer “because people die too fast,” said Mr. Pausch, referring to the actor who has been a powerful advocate for Parkinson’s disease since his diagnosis. Those who get pancreatic cancer are “dead within a year, 75 percent of the time,” he said.

“Pancreatic cancer is a disease that I think we can beat, but it’s going to take more continued courage and funding from our government,” he said in closing.

He almost didn’t make it to the hearing. On Monday he was hospitalized for complications from his chemotherapy treatment. He described himself as “more wobbly today than I thought I would be” during an interview after his testimony.

“Let’s face it,” he said, explaining his determination to make the trip and testify. “The only way you get funding is to rattle a lot of cages.” —Jeffrey R. Young