Bill Gates Sr., a lawyer and the father of Microsoft’s co-founder, who stepped in when appeals for charity began to overwhelm his billionaire son and started what became the world’s largest philanthropy, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, died on Monday September 14 2020 at his beach home on Hood Canal, in the Seattle area. He was 94.
The cause was Alzheimer’s disease, his family said in an announcement on Tuesday.
In 1994, Mr. Gates was 69 and planning to retire from his prestigious law practice in a few years when, one autumn evening, he and his son, Bill, and his daughter-in-law, Melinda, went to a movie. A week later, Bill Jr. set aside $100 million to open what was initially called the William H. Gates Foundation. His father, sitting at his kitchen table, wrote the first check: $80,000 for a local cancer program.
In 2000, Bill Gates and his wife combined three family foundations and donated $5 billion in stock to create a successor charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Mr. Gates, his wife and his father became co-chairs of the new entity, although it was still being managed by Mr. Gates Sr.
William H. Gates has been a director of the Company since January 2003. He has been the Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation since its inception. Mr. Gates serves on the Board of Regents of the University of Washington. He has served as trustee, officer and volunteer for more than two dozen Northwest organizations, including the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and King County United Way. In 1995, he founded the Technology Alliance. From 1964 until 1994 Mr. Gates was a partner in the law firm of Preston, Gates & Ellis and predecessor firms.
William Henry Gates Sr. was called William Henry Gates Jr. at birth in Bremerton, Wash., on Nov. 30, 1925, the younger 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 simplify things.)
In 1951 he married Mary Maxwell, a Seattle civic leader and longtime regent of the University of Washington. Besides Bill, they had two children, Kristianne and Libby. Mary Gates died in 1994. In 1996, Mr. Gates married Mimi Gardner, the former director of the Seattle Art Museum.
Mr. Gates co-founded what became Preston, Gates & Ellis, a leading Seattle law firm, in 1964, and was a partner until 1998. (The firm is now called K&L Gates.) But his principal focus after 1994 was the Gates foundation.
In addition to his son, Bill, he is survived by his wife; his daughters, Kristianne Blake, who is known as Kristi, and Elizabeth MacPhee, who is known as Libby; and eight grandchildren.