Remembering Bill Gates Sr.

By United Way of King County, on September 16, 2020 | In News

Bill Gates Sr. with ‘United Way Campaign Co-Chairs Dan and Annie Wilson’

Bill Gates Sr.’s infectious smile, 2004

Bill Gates Sr. receiving United Way’s Beacon Award from Bill Neukom

Bill Gates Sr. in 2006 at United Way’s Mary Gates Celebration

Bill Gates, Libby Gates Armintrout and father Bill Gates Sr cut the ribbon for the Mary M. Gates Learning Center in Alexandria, VA

Bill Gates Sr. and Warren Buffet at Gates Sr.’s ‘Showing Up for Life’ book release

Yesterday our community, our nation and our world lost one of its biggest champions for justice, fairness and opportunity. Much has been written about Bill Gates Sr.’s many contributions for the greater good, which reach back more than seven decades. They include his service in the United States Army during World War II, his role founding one of America’s pre-eminent law firms, now K&L Gates, his prominent roles with local and national bar associations, countless volunteer positions and his visionary leadership as a driving force of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  

Perhaps less known is his role in bringing the community together through his and his family’s service with United Way. It started in 1974 when his wife Mary Gates joined our board. Bill Gates Sr. often spoke about the influence of Mrs. Gates’ United Way service on their family, which led in turn to Gates Sr.’s own long-term board service both with United Way of King County and United Way of America. 

A story often told at United Way of King County is Bill Gates Sr. and Mary Gates arriving at the United Way building for board meetings with young Bill Gates III in tow. Gwen Munson, now in her 61st year working the United Way front desk, remembers keeping an eye on the younger Bill Gates as he read books waiting for the board meeting to end. 

In addition to his years of board service, Gates Sr. led United Way’s fundraising campaign in 1989 to record-breaking success.  

Perhaps the most significant legacy Gates Sr. leaves us and our community is his instrumental role in creating and seeding the Gates Challenge Endowment. Now at $163 million, that fund substantially offsets our operating costs, allowing us to invest more dollars in building a community where people have homes, students graduate and families are financially stable.  

Gates Sr. believed that United Ways, if focused and efficient, could make a significant impact on big social issues.  

Gates Sr. once said in a 2007 speech that “United Way is my favorite organization. As far as I am concerned, being involved with the United Way is a direct measure of local citizenship.” His commitment, deep-rooted belief that no one makes it alone and his tenacity have brought countless others to partner with United Ways across the country and support their local communities. He will be dearly missed.


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