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William Gates Sr. (1925–2020), philanthropist and father of Bill Gates

by Linnea Crowther

William Gates Sr. was a lawyer and philanthropist who was the father of Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates.

Creating the world’s largest philanthropic organization

Born and raised in Washington state, Gates was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II and earned his law degree at the University of Washington after the war. He cofounded the law firm Shidler McBroom & Gates in 1964, where he practiced until his retirement in 1998. Shortly before his retirement, Gates was asked by his son to help sift through the many appeals for charity he had received due to his immense success with Microsoft. Gates turned the project into a massive charitable endeavor that became the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates managed his son’s foundation for years, reviewing grant proposals and writing checks. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation became, under his and his son’s leadership as co-chairs, one of the largest private philanthropic organizations in the world, with focuses including healthcare, education, and reduction of poverty.  

Gates on charitable giving

“Those who claim that the wealth they have accumulated is theirs to pass on without returning anything back to the American system show a shocking lack of appreciation for all that the system and public monies did to help them create wealth.” —from Gates’ 2009 book, “Showing Up for Life: Thoughts on the Gifts of a Lifetime”

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Tributes to William Gates Sr.

Full obituary: The Seattle Times

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