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Bill Gates Sr. at 90: A giant impact on technology, philanthropy

This special series focuses on important community issues, innovative solutions to societal challenges, and people and non-profit groups making an impact through technology. That was the opening line of a speech that Bill Gates Sr. gave many years ago at an annual meeting of Microsoft employees. It was meant to be funny” and certainly got a laugh” and it was intended to inspire a sense of gratitude that hopefully led to donations to the United Way, a charity championed by Gates. But the truth is that Gates Sr., who turns 90 on Monday, could deliver the same message to people across the Northwest, and beyond, although his legendary humility would never allow it.

Because while Gates Sr. is recognized internationally as the father of the co-founder of Microsoft, his impact on the Seattle region has been huge” even if you completely discount the effects of his parenthood. If you look at who have been the most influential people over the last 50 years, he’s definitely in the top 10, said Susannah Malarkey, executive director of the Seattle-based Technology Alliance. There’s no doubt about that. Many people don’t realize that Gates, formerly a prominent attorney, was involved in the region’s tech industry even before Microsoft got its start and that his interest and support for the sector continued independently of his son’s enterprise.

Or that Gates Sr. has been a tremendous civic leader, advocating for controversial causes including serving on the local and national boards of Planned Parenthood before Roe v. Wade and campaigning as the face of a state income-tax initiative in Washington state. And there’s his leadership for the world’s largest philanthropic trust, plus supporting numerous other global health, education and arts charities, as well as his devotion to the University of Washington and 15 years on its Board of Regents.

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