Randy Pausch


Categories: Education, Extraordinary People

Randolf Frederick Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University professor whose final lecture about the importance of achieving one’s childhood dreams became an Internet sensation and best-selling book, died on July 25 of pancreatic cancer. He was 47.
The Baltimore native wanted to do many things with his life. As a child, he wrote a list of the dreams he hoped to someday achieve including: walk in zero gravity, write an entry in the World Book Encyclopedia, win stuffed animals, be like Captain Kirk and become an Imagineer for Disney. Pausch accomplished all but the Star Trek-inspired dream, though he did get to meet William Shatner, the actor who played Kirk. “It’s really cool to meet your boyhood idol,” Pausch once said. “But it’s even cooler when he comes to you to see what cool stuff you’re doing…That was just a great moment.”
Pausch graduated from Brown University and earned his doctorate in computer science from Carnegie Mellon. After teaching at the University of Virginia, he joined the faculty of Carnegie Mellon in 1997. For the next decade, Pausch taught popular classes in computer science, virtual reality and world building. He also helped launch the Alice project, an innovative 3-D environment that teaches computer programming through stories and games.
Pausch first came into the public eye in September 2007 when he gave his final lecture at Carnegie Mellon in front of 400 students and colleagues. Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow wrote a feature article about “the lecture of a lifetime,” and a video version of the inspirational speech soon appeared on YouTube. Millions of people sat in front of their computers and watched the 76-minute lecture, then shared it with others in e-mails and blogs. Pausch later gave an abridged version of his speech on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” ABC News named him as one of its three “Persons of the Year,” and Time magazine listed him in its “100 Most Influential People” issue.
At the urging of his wife, Jai, Pausch decided to compile his advice into a book, titled “The Last Lecture.” He didn’t want the writing process to take away time spent with his three children, however, so he dictated the chapters to co-author Zaslow while riding his exercise bike each day. Fifty-three bike rides/conversations turned into a manuscript, which was published this spring.
In March, Pausch spoke before Congress on behalf of the Pancreatic Cancer Network. He shared a picture of his family and urged lawmakers to help fund research needed to fight pancreatic cancer, which is considered by the medical community to be the most deadly form of the disease. Pausch was diagnosed with it in August 2007. Although doctors predicted Pausch had about six month to live, he made it five months past that deadline.
Pausch’s final lecture shall serve as his true obituary:

Read the chapter left out of Pausch’s book.


Dianne Odell


Categories: Extraordinary People

Dianne Odell never let her poor health get in the way of a fulfilling life.
Born in Jackson, Tenn., Odell was only 3 years old when doctors diagnosed her with “bulbo-spinal” polio. At the time, no vaccine was available, and the medical profession believed her only chance of survival would involve being confined to an iron lung, a 7-foot-long metal tube that forced air in and out of her lungs. While most polio patients switched from iron lungs to ventilators, Odell was unable to to do so because of a spinal deformity.
So for 58 years, Odell lived inside a 750 lb. machine, breathing in and out with the assistance of technology. Her life was spent on her back, with only her head exposed. She made eye contact with visitors using an angled mirror and operated the television by breathing into a blow tube.
But Odell didn’t just exist in that cylindrical chamber. With the help of her family and home health care aides, she graduated with honors from Jackson High School. Odell then took several courses in psychology at Freed Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn. Although she didn’t graduate, the college awarded her an honorary degree in 1987.
Later in life, Odell became politically active. She volunteered for local campaigns, and even made phone calls to voters, urging them to support several state senators. Using a voice-activated computer program, Odell also penned “Blinky,” a children’s book about a wishing star, and began writing her autobiography. For her “Sassy 60th birthday,” Odell was transported inside the iron lung to The Southern Hotel in Jackson, Tenn., where hundreds of guests honored her with a 9-foot birthday cake.
Life in an iron lung costs about $60,000/year, yet her mother, Geneva, and father, Freeman, refused to institutionalize her. Keeping Odell at home, however, was a financial hardship for the aging couple. To help the family, the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation and the Campbell Street Church of Christ established the Dianne Odell Fund. In 2001, more than 1,000 people, including former Vice President Al Gore and actor David Keith, attended a gala to raise money for her care. James Keach, producer and director of “Walk the Line,” and his wife, actress Jane Seymour, befriended Odell as well, and helped raise money for her medical expenses.
Odell died on May 28 after a thunderstorm knocked out the power to her home and shut down the iron lung. When the family’s emergency generator did not start, her father manually pumped the machine. Weakened by small strokes she suffered in previous months, Odell was unable to keep breathing, and resuscitation efforts failed to revive her. She was 61.


Pippa Bacca

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Categories: Artists

pbacca.jpgPippa Bacca was married to an ideal; she believed in the kindness of humanity. That faith inspired the Italian performance artist to embark on a pilgrimage of the Middle East, dressed as a “Peace Bride.”
Bacca and fellow artist Silvia Moro hitch-hiked from Milan to Israel and the Palestinian Territories as part of the “Brides on Tour” project. They separated in Istanbul with plans to reunite in Lebanon.
“Ultimately, this long performance, this thumbing through countries devastated by wars, aimed to spreading a message of peace, of trust in people we would meet during the travel,” Moro stated. “We wanted to witness the mutual relationship of different cultures, particularly referring to feminine figure and role, by collecting written documents, but also by making videos and taking pictures of those meetings, of those people’s [lives], of their works and also of women’s conditions.”
The brides intended to end their journey by washing their wedding dresses during a public art performance in Tel Aviv. But Bacca disappeared on March 31.
Her naked body was found near the Turkish city of Gebze on April 11. Turkish police arrested Murat Karatas, 38, after he inserted his SIM card into Bacca’s cell phone. He has reportedly confessed to raping and strangling her. Bacca’s camera and pieces of her necklace were later found in Karatas’ home.
Born Giuseppina Pasqualino di Marineo, Bacca was the niece of the late conceptual Italian artist Piero Manzoni. When she wasn’t promoting peace around the world, the 33-year-old resided in Milan.
An exhibition titled “Barisin Gelini: Pippa Bacca” (Peace Bride: Pippa Bacca) will appear at the Taksim Art Gallery in Istanbul from May 17 to May 27. The Byblos Art Gallery in Verona also plans to show photographs and other items from Bacca’s trip during an exhibit this autumn.
View a tribute posted on YouTube.


Vicki Van Meter


Categories: Extraordinary People

Victoria Louise Van Meter, a record-setting young pilot, committed suicide on March 15. She was 26.

Born in Meadville, Pa., Van Meter discovered a passion for flying following a visit to the local airport in 1992. After taking several flying lessons, she made national headlines a year later for piloting a plane across the United States with only her flight instructor on board. The sixth grader, who encountered strong headwinds and turbulence on the five-day flight from Augusta, Maine to San Diego, Calif., set a record as the youngest girl to cross the nation.

She was just 11 years old.

In 1994, Van Meter took the controls of a single-engine Cessna 172 and flew from Augusta, Maine to Glasgow, Scotland. The trans-Altantic flight allowed the pre-teen to set yet another aviation record. Congress banned record-setting attempts by unlicensed pilots, however, after 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff, her father Lloyd Dubroff, 57, and her flight instructor Joe Reid, 52, were killed in a Wyoming crash.

Van Meter’s high-flying achievements took her to Washington D.C., where she received a guided tour of the White House by Vice President Al Gore. In 2003, she was featured in “Women and Flight – Portraits of Contemporary Women Pilots,” a book by Carolyn Russo and a traveling exhibit highlighting 47 female pilots that’s now at the Smithsonian Institution. Van Meter also co-authored “Taking Flight,” a children’s book about her flying exploits.

Although she planned to become an astronaut when she grew up, Van Meter stopped flying after her trip to Europe. As an adult, she earned a criminal justice degree from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, and spent two years in the Peace Corps, serving in Moldova. Van Meter later worked as a surveillance investigator. In her spare time, she cared for her two dogs and cat and enjoyed sky diving.

According to the coroner, Van Meter died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. She suffered from depression and opposed taking medication.


Lazare Ponticelli


Categories: Military

Lazare Ponticelli, the last French veteran of World War I, died on March 12. Cause of death was not released. He was 110.
Born in 1897, Ponticelli came from a poor family that struggled to eke out an existence in northern Italy. His mother sought work in France when he was still a toddler, leaving her children in the care of neighbors. When he was nine, Ponticelli’s father and brother were killed in an accident. The boy didn’t speak of word of French, but decided to travel alone by train from Italy to France to be with his mother.
As a teenager, he cleaned chimneys and sold newspapers on the streets of Paris. When war broke out in 1914, Ponticelli felt he had to give back to his adopted country and join the fight. So at 16, he lied about his age in order to join the 1st Regiment de Marche of the French Foreign Legion.
Ponticelli served as a foot soldier, or poilus, for a year in northern France, fighting the Germans in the trenches and digging ditches to bury the dead. In 1915, the Italian Army conscripted him into their own military and forcibly escorted him to Turin to fight the Austrian Army in Tyrol. Ponticelli became a machinegunner and during one battle he suffered a shrapnel wound to the face. He refused to stop firing his weapon and seek treatment until the Austrian troops raised white cloths and surrendered. After his convalescence in Naples, Ponticelli returned to the front only to be gassed in 1918 by the Austrians.
Ponticelli returned to his adopted home in 1920, where he and two of his brothers founded “Ponticelli Freres” (“Ponticelli Brothers”), a heating and pipe company that is still in business today. Although he was too old to fight in World War II, Ponticelli became a French citizen in 1939 and joined the Resistance in 1942. He restarted his business after the war, and continued to work until retiring in 1960.
Ponticelli’s final years were spent in Le Kremlin Bicetre, a suburb of Paris. A modest man, he kept his war awards — the Croix de Buerre, the Medaille Interalliee, the Legion d’honneur and the Order of Vitttorio Veneto — hidden in a shoebox. Ponticelli never wanted a state funeral, nationwide accolades or interment in the Pantheon, but he agreed to be remembered in a simple ceremony so long as it focused on “those who died” on the battlefield.
On March 17, President Nicolas Sarkozy lead a funeral ceremony at Les Invalides, the Paris military hospice that also houses the tomb of Napoleon. The event, which honored Ponticelli and the 8.5 million other Frenchmen who fought in World War I, was followed by a simple family burial.

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