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Bill Gates Sr., who led billionaire son’s philanthropy, dies at 94


Bill Gates Sr., attorney and father of the Microsoft co-founder, who stepped in when charity requests began to overwhelm his billionaire son and started what became the world’s largest philanthropy, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, died on Monday on your beach. house on Hood Canal in the Seattle area. He was 94 years old.
The cause was Alzheimer’s disease, his family said in an announcement announced Tuesday.
In 1994, Gates was 69 years old and planning to retire from his prestigious legal practice in a few years when, one fall night, he, his son Bill, and his daughter-in-law Melinda went to the movies. Standing in the ticket line, Bill Gates Jr. told his father that he was being inundated with charity requests but was too busy running Microsoft to answer them.
His father suggested that he, Gates Sr., could review the paperwork and, with his son’s approval, send some checks. Gates Jr. agreed.
What Gates Sr later found were dozens of cardboard boxes filled with requests for money, many with heartbreaking stories of need. A week later, Gates Jr. set aside $ 100 million to open what was initially called the William H. Gates Foundation. His father, sitting at the kitchen table, wrote the first check: $ 80,000 for a local cancer program.
For the next 13 years, while Bill Gates focused primarily on Microsoft, his father ran the foundation on a day-to-day basis, consulting with its executives and philanthropists, sending his son lists of proposed grants, writing checks, and shaping major charity goals: improve health. and education and poverty alleviation in the United States and the third world.
“I consider Bill Gates Sr. the conscience of the Gates family,” said Pablo Eisenberg, columnist for The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “It was essential not only to start the foundation, but to make it grow, and his motive was that with all that money, you should do good.”
In 2000, Bill Gates Jr. and his wife combined three family foundations and donated $ 5 billion in stock to create a successor charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates Jr., his wife, and father became co-chairs of the new entity, although Gates Sr still managed it. In many respects, the modern foundation still dates from its inception from its first control in 1994.
With Patty Stonesifer, who bridged the old and new foundations as CEO from 1997 to 2008, Gates Sr. channeled support to campaigns to eradicate polio, reduce infant and maternal mortality, build schools, foster an agricultural revolution in Africa, and invest in technology that created savings accounts for impoverished peasant families. Under her leadership, the foundation also donated hundreds of millions to the search for a vaccine to control AIDS, the spectrum of often fatal conditions caused by HIV.
“A large part of his contribution was not just the strategic focus and institutional set-up of the foundation, it helped establish the principles we work with,” Stonesifer said of Gates Sr. in an interview for this obituary in January. “It was a daily reminder that just because you have the checkbook does not mean that you have knowledge or experience about the issues we are trying to address; we need to listen to people who have the experience and the knowledge. ”
Gates Jr. credited his father with the initial success of the foundation. “I make sure the resources are available and he works to spend the money wisely,” he told The Seattle Times in 2003.
A prominent Seattle attorney with strong civic and professional obligations, Gates Sr. had largely left to his wife, Mary, the obligations of raising their two daughters and a son, Bill, who, all agreed, became insufferably argumentative. When he was a child, he resisted he asked me to clean his room, stop chewing on pencils, and sit down for dinner on time.
His test of will exploded one night at the dinner table, with Bill yelling at his mother in what he described years later in The Wall Street Journal as “a total, total, sarcastic and listless childish rudeness.” In response, his father, in “a rare outburst of temper,” wrote The Journal, threw a glass of water in his son’s face.
Young Bill was taken to a therapist, who advised his parents to reduce discipline. They sent him to Lakeside, a private preparatory school in Seattle, where he had access to computers. There he met Paul Allen, a computer genius student.
Years later, the parents agreed when Bill left Harvard and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he and Allen founded Microsoft in 1975.
Microsoft became the world’s largest personal computer software company. Its 1986 public offering made its founders billionaires and 12,000 employees millionaires. It became one of America’s most valuable publicly traded companies – the third, after Apple and Amazon, to reach a magical $ 1 trillion market capitalization.
“I never imagined that the argumentative young man who grew up in my house, eating my food and using my name, would be my future employer,” Gates Sr. told the Rotary Club of Seattle in 2005.
Gates Jr. announced in 2006 that he would be leaving his day-to-day role at Microsoft for a few years, which would give him more time to work with the foundation.
Weeks later, financier Warren Buffett pledged to give annual gifts of stock in his company, Berkshire Hathaway, to the Gates Foundation for the rest of his life. Through 2018, his donations totaled $ 24.6 billion, dramatically increasing Gates donation and charitable initiatives.
In 2008, when Gates Jr. began working full-time at the foundation, his father’s role had begun to wane after 13 years as the only family member with a daily presence there. For the first time in their lives, father and son were working together. They were both strong-willed executives, but there was no question who the boss was.
“At 6 feet 6 inches, Bill Gates Sr. is almost a head taller than his son,” noted The Journal. “He’s known to be more outgoing than young Bill Gates, but they share a sharp intellect and a frankness that some may find cutting.” However, the Journal added: “He is not prone to introspection and downplays his role in his son’s life.”
In a family line of men with similar names, William Henry Gates Sr. was named William Henry Gates Jr. at birth in Bremerton, Washington, on November 30, 1925, the youngest of two children of William and Lillian (Rice) Gates. (After his son, Bill, born William Henry Gates III, became famous, the father adopted the suffix “Sr” and the son became “Jr.” to keep things simple).
While Gates Sr.’s family was not poor during the Depression, his father, who owned a furniture store, would collect coal that had been dropped from delivery trucks and take it home to heat the house. William attended local schools and was in the army from 1944 to 1946, rising to first lieutenant in the occupation of Japan. He went to the University of Washington with the GI Bill, graduated in 1949 and obtained a JD from its law school in 1950.
In 1951 he married Mary Maxwell, a Seattle civic leader and former regent of the University of Washington. In addition to Bill, they had two children, Kristianne and Libby. Mary Gates died in 1994. In 1996, Mr. Gates married Mimi Gardner, former director of the Seattle Art Museum.
In addition to his son, Bill, he is survived by his wife; his daughters, Kristianne Blake, known as Kristi, and Elizabeth MacPhee, known as Libby; and eight grandchildren.
Gates co-founded what became Preston, Gates & Ellis, a major Seattle law firm, in 1964, and was a partner until 1998 (the firm is now called K&L Gates). He was president of the Seattle / King County Bar Association and the Washington State Bar Association and director of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, United Way and King County Planned Parenthood. In 1995, he founded the Technology Alliance to expand jobs in the field. He also served 15 years as Regent of the University of Washington.
But his main focus after 1994 was the Gates foundation. During his tenure, he ran grants that created vaccines for children; provided clean water and sanitation services to impoverished rural areas in developing countries; distribution of bed nets to reduce mosquito-borne malaria; supported the education of girls; and promoted the use of contraceptives, nutritional supplements and single-use syringes.
In an age of income inequality, Gates Sr. argued that the purpose of wealth was not to pass it on to loved ones. With Buffett and financier George Soros, he opposed the repeal of the federal estate tax in 2001. In 2003 he published “Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes” (written with Chuck Collins). And he unsuccessfully campaigned in 2010 for a Washington state income tax for people making $ 200,000 and couples making $ 400,000.
Unlike most philanthropic organizations, the Gates Foundation’s bylaws require the disposal of all of its assets within 20 years of the death of Bill or Melinda Gates, whichever is later. By 2019, the foundation had given away around $ 50 billion, but still had an endowment of $ 47 billion. Forbes magazine said Bill Gates had $ 108.8 billion in January 2020, second only to the fortune of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos ($ 115.6 billion) and that of Bernard Arnault, the titan of articles from LVMH luxury ($ 117 billion).
In his book “Show Yourself For Life: Thoughts on the Gifts of a Lifetime” (2009), Gates Sr. wrote: “Those who claim that the wealth they have accumulated is theirs to pass on without giving anything back to the American system show a surprising lack of appreciation for all that the system and public money did to help them create wealth. ”

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