Bill Gates Sr, father of Microsoft’s co-founder, dead

Bloomberg September 16 | Updated on September 16, 2020 Published on September 16, 2020

He advised his entrepreneurial son on his charitable foundation

William H. Gates Sr, a lawyer raised in the Great Depression who helped his son — Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates — give away an immense fortune, has died. He was 94.

Gates Sr saw his middle child grow from a headstrong boy to one of the most admired business leaders of his generation who became the world’s second-richest person, with a net worth of more than $123 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. When Bill Gates started giving away the billions he had made as co-founder of Microsoft Corp, he turned to his father to advise his charitable foundation.

“I never imagined that the frequently argumentative little boy I faced each night at dinner, the one eating my food and using my name, was to be my future employer,” Gates Sr said in a 2003 speech to fellow members of Rotary International.

For their earliest philanthropic endeavours in the 1990s, the elder Gates worked from a basement office at home or, as a British newspaper reported, “from the vinyl booth of a burger joint where he often ate lunch.”

Funding pleas

The William H. Gates Foundation, started in 1994 with an initial stock gift of $94 million, concentrated its giving on global health and community groups in the Pacific Northwest. The elder Gates scanned pleas from the serious to the whimsical. One man suggested funding a ballroom dancing television channel, he wrote in his 2009 memoir, Showing Up for Life.

In the book, he also recounted getting an appeal from his son and his son’s wife, Melinda. They had learned that many children die each year from illnesses that are rarely fatal in developed countries, such as measles, malaria and diarrhoea. “Dad, maybe we could do something about this?” they wrote.

The foundation, now known as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has committed more than $50 billion to expand childhood immunisation, eradicate polio, provide seeds to African farmers and improve American public schools, according to its website. The elder Gates served as one of the foundations co-chairs, along with his son and daughter-in-law.

“We have to be helpful to each other or it would be an impossible world,” Gates Sr said in a May 2009 interview with the Seattle Times. “This is not only good religion but very practical for economy and humanity.”

Ballmer connection

Earlier, Gates Sr played a role in the development of Microsoft, the world’s largest software company.

Over dinner in 1980, he helped his son recruit a friend from Harvard University, Steve Ballmer, to work for Microsoft. Ballmer left graduate school and later became chief executive officer of the Redmond, Washington-based company.

The elder Gates operated the slide projector at his son’s first keynote address at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas, in 1983. “Without me, you wouldn’t be here,” he joked at one meeting of Microsoft employees.

His son’s intellectual intensity and headstrong nature at times led to a battle of wills, Gates wrote.

Once, the younger Gates dawdled in his room as the family waited in the car. His mother asked what he was doing. “I’m thinking, mother,” he replied, according to his father’s recollection. “Don’t YOU ever think?”

On another occasion, the future software mogul, then 12, got so nasty with his mother that his father threw a glass of cold water in his face, according to an April 2009 Wall Street Journal article. “Thanks for the shower,” young Gates replied. His parents took him to a counsellor, who advised them to give the youth more freedom.

Later, the young Gates demonstrated his first commercial software, a program to measure traffic that he wrote with his friend Paul Allen, at the kitchen table.

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Published on September 16, 2020
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