Pausch’s The Last Lecture is a Must Read

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 30, 2015

Sometimes you may just pick up a good book to read, especially during a storm when the Governor’s call for a State of Emergency three days ago because of the blizzard. Yes, being homebound because of bad weather does have its advantages. It gives you time to read books, especially if you still have electricity.

For years, my wife has gently suggested that I read a book, lying on her night stand. She told me that “it’ll help you put life’s priorities in order.” But, I never did, until this week when I finally picked up that nationally acclaimed book, “The Last Lecture” coauthored by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow. I quickly devoured the 206 page book, published by Hyperion in 2008, in just one day.

Thoughts of a Dying Professor

Doctors gave Pausch, a 47-year-old father of three, from three to six more months of “good health” when they diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer in August 2007. Just one month later, the dying Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) professor would address a packed auditorium for his afternoon lecture, addressing over 400 students, colleagues and friends. His talk was part of an ongoing CMU lecture series where top academics gave their “final talk”, revealing what really matters to them and the insights gleaned over their life if it was their last opportunity. Sadly, Pausch literally got his last chance.

Pausch was an award-winning professor and researcher, in the Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction, and Design at CMU in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He passed away from complications from his disease on July 25, 2008. Zaslow, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, attended the last lecture, and wrote the story that helped fuel worldwide interest in it.

According to Wikipedia, “The Last Lecture became a New York Times bestseller in 2008, and remained on the prestigious list for 112 weeks, continuing into the summer of 2011. The book [ISBN: 978-1-4013-2325-7] has been translated into 48 languages [including Italian, German, Chinese, Arabic and more] and has sold more than 5 million copies in the United States alone, states the free internet encyclopedia.”

The CMU shot a video (one hour and 16 minutes in length) of Pausch’s last lecture—and soon the footage began spreading across the internet, on You Tube, popping up in tens of thousands of websites. Pausch’s inspirational talk, which has been viewed today by more than 17 million people today on You Tube can now be seen on CMU’s website, at http://www.cmu.edu/randyslecture/. His book and e-book can also be purchased on this website or at any bookstore, including your favorite neighborhood store.

Pausch’s Last Hurrah

Pausch’s lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” wasn’t about his dying. But, he freely admitted that he would rather have terminal cancer than being hit by a bus and suddenly killed because if he was hit by a sudden accident he would not have time to spend with his family and getting his house in order. He moved from Southern Virginia to Pittsburg so his wife, Jai, and his children could be near family.

Meanwhile, the CMU lecturer humorously begins by noting that while he had cancerous lesions throughout his body, outwardly he looked healthy. At one point, to prove his point, he dropped down to the floor and did push-ups on stage.

Throughout his talk, Pausch reeled off his unique insights gained from his four plus decades of life experience, specifically surmounting the challenges in your life he calls “brick walls.” He says, “Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something,” he said. Seize the moment, he adds, because, “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think”

One of his dreams was becoming a Disney Imagineer. Three rejection letters and a Dean who attempted to block his efforts were an insurmountable “brick wall.” He ultimately would accomplish that childhood dream. He met William Shatner, won large stuffed animals, floated in zero gravity and even authored an article in the World Book encyclopedia. Although he never played for the NFL, he learned about life from his football coaches in his early school years.

So, while Professor Pausch stresses his talk was about achieving childhood dreams, it’s really about how to lead your life, he admits. “If you live your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself,” he believes. Oftentimes referring to ‘head fake’ throughout the lecture, meaning we tend to gain the most experience or lesson when guised by something else. But, at the lecture’s conclusion, Pausch freely admits the ‘last lecture’ was the biggest head fake of them all – for it wasn’t for those in the room but for his children, all under 7 years old. His talk is sprinkled with things he wants his children to learn and wants them to know about him, including personal stories of his growing up, his courtship with their mother, and ways to succeed in life. So, there are many levels and points Pausch gets across in his lecture, detailed in his bestselling book.

Pausch practiced what he preached, telling the packed auditorium to enjoy life and just have fun, like he did. Live life to the fullest because one never knows when it might be taken away, the terminally ill professor warns, who has just months to live.

Loyalty is important so “dance with the one who brings you,” says Pausch. He quotes Seneca, the Roman philosopher born in 5 B.C., “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. With this quote, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” He reminds us not to focus on the little issues while ignoring the big ones. “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand,” he says.

Pausch tells a story of his father’s “heroic achievement” for bravery awarded to him by the commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division in War II. The 22 year old solider, like many of the Greatest Generation, never mentioned his bronze star, which he only discovered after his death. It just never came up, stated Pausch, but revealed volumes about the importance of being touted their awards, never revealed to mother.

The CMU Professor would even award the “First Penguin” to students who failed to achieve their goals in his “Building Virtual Worlds” course, even though they took a risk using new technology or ideas in their design. He says this award was for “glorious failure” and “out-of-the-box thinking and using imagination in a daring way.”

The Last Lecture is a great read for those who seek a road map for living a better more productive life. It’s jam-packed with Pausch’s wisdom that will certainly come in handy throughout one’s journey in life especially when you confront the “brick walls” or challenges in your personal and professional careers. Take time to live your dreams to be crossed off your bucket list. Sometimes life can be unexpectedly too short, just like Pausch ultimately found out.

DEA’s Grimaldi Hangs Up His Spurs

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 25, 2015

With 40 years in state government under his belt, including 29 years at Elderly Affairs, Larry Grimaldi begins to move into his next stage of life, publicly announcing his retirement earlier this week. The retirement date, Feb. 6, is set in stone, his papers to personnel filed.

Sixty-five year old Grimaldi, who currently serves as Chief, Program Development at the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs (DEA), looks forward to his retirement next month, but with “mixed emotions.” While the North Providence resident is satisfied with his professional accomplishments over his career, in retirement “there is an anticipation of the unknown.” It’s not an uncommon experience for those planning to “hang up their spurs” after successful careers, he says.

Once retired, “I will take a little time to breathe and look around for things I just might want to do,” says Grimaldi, noting that first on his short list is to drive across the country in April with his wife, Katherine, in a small SUV. Not a bad decision with lower gas prices.

Grimaldi has no regrets as to how his career at DEA panned out. “It was marvelous,” he tells this columnist.

Throughout the Years

After graduating from the University of Rhode Island in 1970 with a Bachelors degree in Journalism, Grimaldi worked for Providence-based companies Davol Rubber Company as a Quality Control Inspector and, three years later as a technical writer at BIF Industries. But he would leave the private sector to work as a Revenue Officer for the state’s Division of Taxation from 1975 to 1986.

A job advertisement for the position of Communications Coordinator at the state’s Department of Elderly Affairs (now a Division within the Department of Human Services) would catch Grimaldi’s attention. He jumped at the chance to apply. “It would really allow me the opportunity to put my college education and communication skills to good use,” he remembers.

Grimaldi learned a lot about the state’s aging network, honing his communication skills and building relationships. The late William Speck took him under his wing, teaching him the art of disseminating information to seniors and their caregivers, elected officials, and to the aging network, too.

According to Grimaldi, the statewide DEA information and public outreach campaign for the roll-out of the Medicare Part D program in 2006 received an Innovations in Health Care Award from RI Quality Partners (the federally designated Medicare Quality Improvement Organization for Rhode Island).

Putting his writing skills to good use, for over 27 years Grimaldi penned over 600 “Rhode Island Senior Beat” columns that appeared in many of the state’s daily and weekly newspapers. Since last year, the prolific writer produced over 60 weekly columns, “Taking Charge,” that appeared in the Providence Journal.

Grimaldi is also responsible for producing the nationally acclaimed ‘Senior Journal’ on the state’s public access cable. Since he took the helm as DEA’s information officer, more than 620 programs have been broadcast. Over 75 older volunteers have “lent their ideas, time, talent, and unique perspective” to this effort, he says, noting that this November the show celebrated 25 years on the air.

In 2012, DEA’s cable show received the “Volunteers Matter Award” from the Washington-based National Association of State Units on Aging and Disabilities, says Grimaldi, noting that it was one of three programs recognized at that conference that year.

During his DEA career, Grimaldi was responsible for providing an estimated 300 monthly trainings to the state’s Information and Referral Specialists and professionals in the aging network. He brought DEA’s greetings and information to United Way and the POINT (Aging and Disability Resource Center for Rhode Island) events and to local health fairs and expos.
As his final retirement day approaches on February 6, 2015, Grimaldi says that he will miss his DEA relationships and those in the aging network that have developed over the years. “They are exceptionally dedicated people,” he says, noting that they now have to do more work with less resources.

Colleagues Say Their Goodbys

Grimaldi “has been the face of DEA for decades,” says DEA Director Charles Fogarty. “He is a warm, caring, and energetic man who has a real passion for helping older Rhode Islanders live full and productive lives. To thousands of seniors over the years he became a trusted friend on matters they cared about most. He really represents the best in public service in Rhode Island,” notes the newly appointed DEA Director.

Former DEA Director Corinne Calise Russo, who now serves as Deputy Director of the state’s Department of Human Services, describes Grimaldi as the “consummate professional.” He is a “great trainer with exceptionally strong people skills,” says the Warwick resident who was former director at the North Providence-based Salvatore Mancini Senior Center.

According to Russo, Grimaldi was key to getting DEA’s widely used pocket manual out to the public on a timely manner each year. “He was actually like a one person production line for this manual, compiling information, ensuring accuracy, and designing it, even negotiating with the printer for a good price and product. It is a “wonderful resource for families, physician offices, community partners and elected officials”, she says.

Susan Sweet, a passionate advocate for older Rhode islanders, says that Grimaldi “fulfilled his responsibilities admirably because he took those responsibilities seriously. He has been the information guru at DEA. Nothing could be more important”

His columns provided accurate information and guidance to older persons, people with disabilities, their families and the general public, Sweet says, giving “trustworthy and helpful tips and thoughtful advice with a cheerful lilt and a timely presence.”

Paula Parker, LCSW, Assistant Director at DEA, agrees with Sweet’s assessment of Grimaldi’s writing skills. “I have been awed by his commitment to accurate, current and effective communication about aging issues for both the public community and for his colleagues at DEA and other state agencies”, she says. “I think that Larry’s most impressive skill is his ability to re-frame complex issues (such as Medicare Part D, Social Security retirement benefits, and other governmental programs) in language that is clear, concise and understandable to most people”, adds Parker.

Grimaldi certainly earned his spurs serving under eight DEA Directors. He has earned the right to hang them up.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Keep Fido and Fluffy Safe When the Weather Turns Cold

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 10, 2015

According to ABC 6 News, early New Years Day, Toni Liberatore, a Burrillville resident walking her dog in the extremely cold weather, called the Town’s animal control officer after she discovered an elderly Italian Greyhound lying almost unconscious under a truck parked near her home, freezing from the frigid weather.

During the news story, Liberatore  told reporter Samantha Lavien that the severely neglected dog was in bad shape.  She described the female Greyhound as being very thin, having extremely long nails, and diseased teeth.

An emotional distraught Liberatore described the condition of the dog after finding it under the truck.  “She was like holding an ice-cube to my body.  She was frozen.  She was pretty much in and out, said Liberatore. “She couldn’t hold her own head up she was extremely emaciated, I could feel every bone in her body,” she observed

ABC News exclusive story went viral, being placed on Facebook and tweeted throughout the internet, sending the story to all corners of the world.

Burrillville animal control officials moved quickly to save the elderly animal, in need of veterinary care, states Police Lt. John Connors, who oversees the town’s animal control division.  The small Greyhound, showing signs of hypothermia, was immediately transported to an emergency animal clinic for treatment. After emergency care, using heating pads and fluids to increase the animal’s body temperature, the dog, now dubbed Elsa, was than transferred to Northern Rhode Island Animal Hospital for further medical care.

After the first day of medical treatments, the dog’s temperature became normal, noted Lt. Connors.  Elsa was released two days ago.

No Intent of Abuse

Lt. Connors stated that the owner of the dog contacted his department after photos began appearing on Face book on New Years Day.  The dog had accidently escaped from his house on New Years Eve without his knowledge, the owner reported. After a through Burrillville Police investigation, with interviews of family members, friends, and neighbors, no “intent of abuse,” was found, says Lt. Connors. The veterinarian’s report did not indicate or substantiate a criminal charge for abuse or neglect, he says.  As a result, no charges were filed against the animal’s owner.

With latest blast of arctic air approaching Rhode Island, weather reporters noted that yesterday was to be the coldest day of the winter.  Throughout the day temperatures plunged to near zero, with gusts of wind lowering the thermometers to 15 degrees to 25 degrees below zero.

Neglect, abuse or mistakenly believing your pet is inside the  house, like what occurred to the elderly Greyhound in Burrillville, will put animals in severe danger if they are left out in extremely frigid weather.

Keeping Your Pet Safe

There is no excuse to leave animals outside when you go to work especially when the media gives you advanced notice that temperatures are going to plunge below zero, says John Holmes, Pawtucket’s animal control supervisor.

Holmes was prepared to handle dozens of medical emergencies resulting from the frigid weather at the Pawtucket Animal Shelter. “We were staffed, had adequate supplies and equipped to treat animals,” he says.

Although he was prepared, Holmes, a 40-year City employee who oversees two animal control officers, was relieved that only one call came in as the temperatures dropped below zero.  He attributes the lack of calls by the warning of media not to leave pets unattended outside.  “People seem to be paying attention,” he says.

Common sense will tell you when you should not leave your pet outside, says Holmes.  “Put on a warm coat.  Wear heavily gloves and a hat.  If you are cold, it is the same for your pet,” notes Holmes, stressing that people easily think that animals are not cold in frigid weather because of their thick coats of fur.

“This is just not true,” says Holmes.

Frigid Weather and Hypothermia

According to Holmes, frigid weather can result in hypothermia, when an animal’s body is no longer able to maintain normal temperature.  Severe hypothermia can result in coma and ultimately death.  Smaller breeds, very young animals, and older pets are more susceptible to rapid surface loss of body heat, putting them at a higher risk to get hypothermia.

Holmes notes that the symptoms of hypothermia depend on the severity.  These can include shivering, a slow shallow breathing, and weakness in mild cases. Muscle stiffness, low blood pressure, a blank stare, slow and shallow breathing are symptoms in the moderate state and fixed and dilated pupils, a heartbeat that’s hard to find, difficulty in breathing or coma are seen in severe cases of hypothermia.

If hypothermia occurs, Holmes recommends that the animal be wrapped in a warm blanket and quickly transported to a veterinary emergency clinic where treatment can be provided.

It is easy to protecting your pets from the cold weather, adds Holmes. Don’t take elderly, young or sick pets, especially small short haired breeds outdoors unprotected in below zero weather, for long periods of time. Just let them go out in the back yard for a few minutes if necessary. “A short walk around the block won’t hurt your animal,” he says.

Holmes asks that all concerned neighbors who notice dogs being left outside in inclement weather to call his office at the City of Pawtucket’s Animal Shelter.  We would rather be safe than sorry. . “Each and every call is taken very seriously and checked out,” he warns. After an investigation, if it is found that someone knowingly abused or neglected an animal, that person will be prosecuted and held accountable for their actions

Frigid weather is hazardous to your animal’s health. With winter’s temperatures now dipping into single digits, even below zero, make sure you keep your pet safe and warm in your home.  Be responsible.

To report a complaint about alleged animal cruelty: City of Pawtucket, contact John Holmes, Animal Control Supervisor, at 401 722-4243. Or write Animal Control Division, 121 Roosevelt Avenue, Pawtucket, RI 0286. Web site: http://www.pawtucketanimalshelter.org.  Or call 401-722-4243.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer that covers medical, aging and health care issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.