Randy is the narrator of book and also its main subject. This book, as well as the lecture that the title references, serve as the final public statements of a dying man. Randy, though he’s… (read full character analysis)
Randy’s wife, Jai writes the book’s foreword after Randy’s death, and recurs as a figure throughout the book. First she is a “brick wall” Randy has to climb over, then Jai becomes… (read full character analysis)
Randy’s mom is a tough, old-school English teacher who had high expectations, and Randy considers her high expectations to be part of his good fortune in life. She is a Christian who believes kids should… (read full character analysis)
Randy’s “Dutch Uncle” at Brown University who becomes one of Randy’s mentors and has a deep impact on Randy’s life—he makes Randy more self aware, leads him to believe in the idea of “… (read full character analysis)
She serves Randy and Steve Seabolt the day before Randy’s lecture. Randy comments that she must be so excited to have kids, and she replies that no, it was an accident, which causes Randy to… (read full character analysis)
Randy’s childhood friend who helps him paint his bedroom with wild images (and, on top of the “hope” in the Pandora’s box, he writes the word ‘Bob.’) Jack is Randy’s good friend throughout his… (read full character analysis)
Chris is Tammy’s son and Randy’s nephew. Randy relishes the opportunity to help shape Chris’s, and his sister Laura’s, lives. After Randy finds out that he is dying, he asks Chris and… (read full character analysis)
Randy’s dad was a WWII medic who ran a small auto insurance agency in Baltimore, mostly insuring impoverished or high-risk clientele that other insurance companies wouldn’t help out. Randy’s dad was extremely charitable, founding a nonprofit group for immigrants’ kids to learn English.
Coach Jim Graham
Coach Graham was Randy’s no-nonsense hard-edged football coach and mentor from age seven through high school. He taught Randy the value of hard work and also the idea of the “head fake.”
He gives Randy encouragement after Coach Graham rides Randy particularly hard during one practice.
Randy’s sister. She’s an artistic kid who helps Randy paint his bedroom, and she grows up to be a mom to Randy’s niece and nephew, Laura and Chris.
Randy’s eldest son and first child, Dylan was born only seven months into Jai’s pregnancy and had to be kept on a respirator for his first few months. Randy describes Dylan as a caring, curious kid.
Randy’s youngest child and only daughter, Randy falls in love with Chloe from the first moment he sees her. She is careful and dainty, unlike her brothers.
Dr. Michele Reiss
Randy and Jai’s couples therapist, Dr. Reiss helps the two of them navigate marital issues after Randy is diagnosed with cancer.
One of Randy’s childhood idols is Captain Kirk, and when Randy gets to meet William Shatner (who plays Captain Kirk) in person, Shatner impresses Randy with his inquisitive mind and his willingness to admit what he doesn’t know. Kirk and Shatner both embody the idea of leadership to Randy.
A Walt Disney Imagineer who runs the virtual reality Aladdin project that Randy ends up taking a sabbatical to work on.
Although Randy doesn’t give his real name, “Dean Wormer” is a dean at the University of Virginia who has a no-fun, all-business attitude. He made it difficult for Randy to take his sabbatical to work with the Disney Imagineers.
One of Randy’s colleagues who attends medical appointments with him after he is diagnosed with cancer.
Dr. Herb Zeh
Randy’s surgeon when he has to have a Whipple Procedure for his pancreatic cancer.
Dr. Robert Wolff
An oncologist at MD Anderson who is one of Randy’s primary doctors, and has to break the news (though Randy already knows it) that Randy’s cancer is terminal.
Carnegie Mellon’s vice president for advancement who tells Randy a story of seeing him happy in an unguarded moment.
Takes care of Randy and gives him lunch money after Tammy has thrown his lunchbox in the mud.
The Elementary School Principal
Calls Randy’s mom to tell her about the lunchbox incident, but the principal lets Randy’s parents do the disciplining themselves.
One of Randy’s very good college friends who ends up going on the last scuba diving trip before Randy’s death.
Tammy’s daughter and Randy’s niece, Randy relishes the opportunity to help shape Laura’s, and her brother Chris’s, lives. After Randy discovers he’s dying, he asks Laura and Chris to treat his kids like Randy treated them.
The guy operating the balloon after Randy and Jai’s wedding.
The C-Section Doctor
The doctor who makes Randy and Jai sign insurance forms before Jai’s emergency surgery to have Dylan at just seven months of pregnancy.
The Baby Nurse
The woman who calms Randy and Jai’s fears after Dylan gets moved to a new room, where the healthy babies go.
The Police Officer
He pulls Randy over and then lets him go with a warning when Randy tells the officer that he has cancer. This illustrates the value of being entirely truthful.
Tommy Burnett is one of Randy’s students who always dreamed of working as a special effects artist on Star Wars movies. After working with Randy and gaining programming skills, he eventually achieves his dream.
The drama Professor at Carnegie Mellon University who co-founded the Entertainment Technology Center with Randy.
Carnegie Mellon’s president who sets up Randy’s last lecture.
An executive at the Electronic Arts video game company (EA) who becomes good friends with Randy during Randy’s sabbatical working at EA. Steve is one of the three friends who accompany Randy on his last scuba trip before he passes away.
Randy sticks his neck out for Dennis after a mean dean (possibly “Dean Wormer”) wants to expel Dennis for a single bad grade in calculus. Dennis proves Randy right, and eventually Dennis takes over the Alice project, continuing Randy’s professional legacy.
Randy’s student at Carnegie Mellon University who becomes a colleague and does research on how to make Alice more accessible to girls.
Randy’s Ex Girlfriend
Randy tells a story about how his ex-girlfriend was stressed about getting out of debt and started going to yoga and meditation class, until Randy pointed out that she could get a once-a-week job in lieu of yoga and pay off her debts, which she does.
Randy’s quadriplegic college landlord who teaches Randy the value of not whining and dealing with things in stride.
A fellow professor at the University of Virginia who gifts Randy with a sledgehammer because Randy smashed so many VCR’s during his time there.
Grocery Store Cashier
A woman who inadvertently teaches seven-year-old Randy the value of preparedness when she jokingly asks if he has money to pay her when Randy’s mom runs off to grab another item at the supermarket.
Randy’s over-prepared college classmate who brings an extra projector bulb to a presentation. Andy Van Dam says he’s going to be successful, which ends up coming true.
Adult At Disney
A stranger suggests that Tammy and Randy take the broken salt-and-pepper shaker back to the store and ask for a replacement, which proves fruitful.
A Disney Imagineer tasked with overseeing Randy during his sabbatical there. He is initially skeptical of what Randy can bring to the table, but grows to respect him.
A friend of Andy Van Dam’s and the head of Carnegie Mellon’s computer science department. Though Randy’s grad school application is initially rejected, after some prodding from Andy Van Dam, Nico interviews Randy and accepts him into graduate school at Carnegie Mellon.
Fred Brooks Jr.
A famous IBM employee who Randy gets up the nerve to contact. He ends up being the one who sets up the lecture at UNC where Randy meets Jai.
M. R. Kelsey
A woman from Randy’s church who sits with him for the eleven days after his surgery.
After Randy’s terminal diagnosis, he sees his minister a few days later. The minister tells him he needs “emotional insurance” along with life insurance, and that he should take time to properly leave goodbyes for his wife and kids before his health worsens.
Jai’s friend who wheels out the cake during the happy birthday song near the end of Randy’s last lecture.